People of Sanya
One of the most fascinating aspects of Sanya is the local minority peoples, the original inhabitants of the island who have lived here, relatively undisturbed, for thousands of years. Their cultures, customs and ways of life remain largely intact, especially if you venture into the mountainous heartland of the island.
These ethnic minority groups are mainly distributed in the mountain areas, of these, the Gaofeng Area and Yaliang Area are home to the Li and Miao People and the Hui are the dominant ethnic group at Huixin and the Huihui Area.
a. Li People
The largest of the ethnic minorities on Hainan Island, they have a distinctive culture, customs.
The Li are thought to have been the first people to have settled Hainan, originally arriving in the area from the southern provinces of mainland China, particularly Guangxi, approximately 3000 years ago.
The Li in Hainan currently number is about 1.14 million.
As mentioned, the Li language, Hlai, is related to languages spoken in other parts of South East Asia, such as Thai and Lao. However, thanks to their close relations with the Han peoples stretching back thousands of years, most of the Li People can also speak Chinese.
Revered as a “living fossil” amongst Chinese textiles, the making of the wonderful Li brocade is a unique folk art and textile craft in China. A Li invention, this unique craft tradition can be traced back over 2,500 years.
Li brocade clothing is still worn by many in the countryside on a daily basis and also on formal and ceremonial occasions. It typically takes around three to four months, and in some cases even longer, to create an entire outfit.
Traditionally, the production of brocade cloth has been a fundamental skill learned by all Li women, who are bought up learning the entire production process, including its spinning, weaving, dyeing and embroidery.
The traditional houses of the Li people, which are quite rare nowadays, are boat-shaped, with thatched roofs.
Food and Drinks
The staple foods of the Li are rice, corn and sweet potatoes, a diet which is supplemented by hunting.
One of their most distinctive meals is bamboo rice. The Li people also like to chew betel nuts which are considered to have medicinal qualities, including helping to fight disease and improving the appearance.
Visitors should also take the opportunity to try the Shanlan rice wine when they visit Hainan’s Li people. The Li love drinking, and are good at it, and every family brews their own Shanlan rice wine, using Shanlan rice, creating a drink which is mellow, delicious and highly nutritious.
Most of the Li festivals are aligned with those of the Han people, with most important traditional festivals being the Spring Festival and ”Sanyuesan”.
Before the Spring Festival, all Li families prepare sumptuous dinners and brew wine. On New Year’s Eve, the Li worship their ancestors, and in the following days visit and greet each other, as well as singing and dancing together.
Sanyuesan, in Chinese, refers to the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar, the traditional day of celebration. Elders are honored and receive visitors who bear gifts of yellow wine, cured vegetables and cakes. It is a wonderful time, full of expressions of love to loved ones.
b. Miao People
The Miao are found throughout the south-western provinces of China, as well as in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos where they are known as the Hmong people.
The Hainan Miao were originally soldiers dispatched from Guangxi during the Ming dynasty.
Their current population stands at about 60,000.
Although they are ethnically Mainland Miao, the Hainan Miao peoples’ period of separation from their mainland cousins has resulted in differences in language, culture and dress.
The have their own festivals, customs and traditional clothing, notable by the lavish use of silver ornaments in their headwear and clothing.
The Hainan Miao have their own spoken language. In fact, they are different from the Miao People from Mainland China in their spoken language, daily life and culture.
The Miao are known for their lively embroideries and brocades. Traditional Miao silver ornaments include traditional necklaces, bracelets, headwear, and Miao necklaces which are delicately carved with different patterns.
Food and Drinks
Five-colour rice is the traditional snack of Hainan Miao people. Annually, on March 3 of the lunar calendar year, Miao and Li people dress up to celebrate the festival. Every family makes a five-colour rice dish in order to commemorate the five Miao ancestors. The Miao people dip the rice into black, red, green, and yellow colourings with plant leaves, then cook the coloured rice with normal rice.
One of the distinct features of the traditional costumes worn by Miao women is the lavish use of the extremely diverse and traditionally-made silver ornaments on their headwear and clothing.
For the Miao People, the Sister Festival is a romantic festival which falls on March 15 of the lunar calendar. After girls enjoy a dinner known as the Sister Dinner, they dress themselves up in Miao costumes and go on dates with their lovers. They will usually sing folk songs and perform the unique Sheng Instrument-Playing Dance. During this festival, young people have a wonderful opportunity to fall in love, or celebrate existing love, through joyous singing and dancing.
The Sanyuesan Festival is also an extremely important festival for the Miao People.
The Hui population is now centred around the Huihui Village and Huixin Village of Phoenix Town, close to Sanya’s airport. Their total population numbers around 10,000 people.
They are versatile and renowned for their good business sense. There is also a great deal of evidence that, long ago, Hui people settled in the region after conducting business in the seas off China, and stayed permanently to become residents of Hainan.
Although designated as Hui due to their Muslim religion, the Hui people are more accurately known as Utsuls (Muslim Chams), and are thought to have originally come from the ancient kingdom of Champa, which is now central Vietnam.
Hui historical sites found in Sanya include mosques, steles and tombs.
They have a unique language, which although related to Malay and the Polynesian languages, has over several centuries evolved to become tonal, possibly due to exposure to the Chinese language.
Their houses are all decorated in accordance with their Muslim faith, with tablets bearing the Arabic word for “peace” above their gates. They lived in grass-thatched huts in ancient times, but today many live in multi-story cement buildings.
Food and Drinks
The Hui people in Sanya have maintained their distinct habits and customs. They love rice and fish but strictly eat no pork or animal blood, and insist that all meat they do eat is from livestock killed as is stipulated by the Muslim faith.
The traditional Hui clothes are black, blue, white and green. Today, Hui men have taken to wearing non-traditional clothes, but the majority of women still wear traditional garments consisting of a single-colored loose upper garment with the top buttoned on the right, black cropped pants and a black headscarf.
The Sanya Hui are Sunni Muslims and observe the traditional festivals and celebrations of the faith, such as Ramadan and the festival of Eid (Hari Raya Puasa).
d. Dan People
Whilst not officially recognised as a minority people, they nonetheless have a very distinct and interesting culture.
The Dan are fishermen, and their communities are dotted along the coast of the island – these are easily spotted as they are built entirely on water. In the past many Dan lived their whole lives on boats and floating houses, never setting foot on land.
There are communities of the Dan all over Southern China and the one near Sanya is one of the larger ones.
In the Sanya area they often operate restaurants in their boats and houses – with customers ferried over from the shore.