«Dujie» (Initiation Rite) Masks of the Yao people

ethnic china

«Dujie» (Initiation Rite) Masks of the Yao people

                Popular among the Yao people in Wenshan and Honghe Prefectures, the Dujie masks are used for the ceremonies of the boys’ rites of passage. The ceremony, performed for boys that are about fourteen years old, will be held on a carefully chosen auspicious day. The initiates take part in rituals, observe the taboos and learn religious rituals and knowledge. At the ceremony, a rectangular flat mask with Taoist deities is worn to change the normal identity so as to gain recognition and communicate with ancestors and deities.
Dujie ceremony includes both group and individual rites such as soul calling, merit-making rituals and initiation rites. The events take several days and are held to honor the village’s and mountain’s guardian spirits.
For the Yao, men are considered adults only after they have participated in and passed the adult ceremony, then they are allowed to start romantic relations with girls and get married. For many Yao, the Dujie is sacred and holy, even more important than marriage. A man who has not taken part in or passed the adult ceremony is not considered as a real man, and probably can never find a wife. [Chinatravel.com]
There are two types of masks on display. Some, made of paper, represent the gods, which the boys must wear on their faces during the initiation, and others, made of wood, are those of the deities King Pan and Jiulang, and their masks guarantee their presence during the initiation.

The process of the adult ceremony takes a lot of preparation time. As soon as a boy is ten years old, his parents invite a knowledgeable man to calculate the best year for him to take part in the adult ceremony. One or two years before the ceremony, the parents step up the preparations and set an exact date. After that, many knowledgeable teachers are invited to help in the instruction. The teachers use books and impart their own knowledge about all the traditional Yao moralities, virtues, and rules. The boy practices diligently on a big table as a dress rehearsal for the ceremony and sleeps in bed covered with a quilt for five days before the ceremony begins.
The Dujie ceremony itself is long and complicated. It begins before the sun rises. The teacher first reads scriptures and helps the boy go through the religious rites. Then a teacher who wears a red gown helps the boy put on the same clothes, tying the red belt, and putting on a charm of an ancient Yao sacred statue. The teacher ties one end of a red ribbon to his own waist, and the other end to the boy’s waist, symbolizing that his student is just like a baby who has not yet been delivered from the mother’s womb. With the divine sword and the ritual apparatus in his hands, the teacher leads the boy into the courtyard for the ceremony. On the way there, the teacher also hands out paper money to the surrounding audience.

After reaching the altar of heaven, the boy first walk around the altar three times in a clockwise direction under the leadership of the teacher. Then the teacher climbs up to the altar with a tool shaped like tree leaves in his hands, murmuring some words. Then he comes down, leads the boy to the big table, and unties the red belt symbolizing birth. At the same time, he tells the boy about the oath he will make. The boy kneels down to thank his teacher before the wooden ladder is taken away. Then the boy swears to heaven, that he will never commit the crimes of murder, arson, robbery, theft, rape, kidnapping or mistreat his parents, and things like that. When the oath is finished, the teacher makes a red stamp on one of the boy’s hands with a triangle seal.
Dujie, or literally, converting by fast, stands for the Taoist rite of initiation to the Yao. By analyzing the Taoist ideas embedded in the rite and the Taoist source of the commandments connected with the rite, it is seen that it represents the inheritance and evolvement of the Taoism among the Yao people. Originating from the rite of talisman conferring in the Way of Orthodox Unity, which was an early sect of Taoism, the rite of dujie reflects many Taoist elements and the convert of the native religion of the Yaos to Taoism.
The far-reaching rite also shows the spread of Taoism in the Yao society and the combination of Taoism and the native culture among the Yao people. As a rite representing the Taoist thought, dujie plays a religious part with profound anthropological significance and historic value in the Yao society.

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To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "«Dujie» (Initiation Rite) Masks of the Yao people," in Ethnic China, 29 enero 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/dujie-initiation-rite-masks-of-the-yao-people/.

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