Unit 1: Sister Meal Festival: Exploring Rituals

Artists: The Miao women of, Juizhou Village, Guizhou Province

Media: Clothing, Embroidered Textiles, Silver Jewelry and Headdresses, Music, and Foodways


Overview of Unit: In March of 2010, several members of the ChinaVine team visited Juizhou Village in Guizhou Province for the Sister Meal Festival, which is a time when young people look for marriage partners.
Our hosts were Miao women. (In the United States, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos this cultural group is called the Hmong. For images of Hmong culture see: http://goo.gl/wLQmw
). The villagers enthusiastically welcomed the ChinaVine team and invited them to dance, feast, and drink as they sang songs filled with blessings. Everyone’s senses were heightened as the day turned to night and friendships were made. As outsiders, the western visitors only understood parts of what the festival was all about. However, the experience was still intense and meaningful due to the many ways in which the visitors were engaged in the event.

Philosophy/Folklore: Every culture has rituals. Although scholars disagree on a definition for “ritual,” most agree that they address issues of order and disorder. Generally speaking, most rituals focus on ordering the world in a particular way. For example, rituals take place to make it rain so crops can grow. They are performed to assist individuals in finding satisfactory marriage partners and they take place to help young women become pregnant. Rituals can set the world right, affecting positive acts such as healing the sick or appeasing the ancestors to promote good fortune. While the word ‘ritual’ is often used to identify celebrations and activities that only take place on special days of the year (or even less frequently), the word is also used to refer to those sorts of things we perform more often, like eating pizza every Saturday night or going to the movies on Tuesdays. Many rituals, like the Sister Meal Festival, are very complex and it is difficult (especially for an outsider) to grasp all the meanings involved. Many rituals involve all the senses, not just sight and sound, making the experience all the more intense.


Lesson 1: Investigating Everyday Cultural Environments

As humans we all engage in same kinds of everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, and working. This lesson analyzes how similar ritualized activities are performed in different geographical places.

Lesson 2: Considering the Senses in Ritual

Rituals often engage all five of a participant’s senses although one or two may be more prevalent. This lesson connects the participant to all the senses in a specific ritual.

Lesson 3: Exploring Clothing as an Aspect of Ritual

Carefully considered clothing is often an important part of a ritual. This lesson centers on the experience of wearing specialized clothing in particular environments and ritualistic ways of preparing it.