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The Xibe ethnic minority

(People's Daily)

10:07, August 12, 2011

Population: 172,900

Major areas of distribution: Xinjiang, Jilin and Liaoning

Language: Xibe

Religion: Polytheism, Shamanism and Buddhism


Photo: Chen Haiwen

The Xibe ethnic minority, with a population of 127,900, is widely distributed over northern China from the Ili area in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the west to the northeast provinces of Jilin and Liaoning.

Custom

The Xibe people in northeast and northwest China have each formed their own characteristics in the course of development. The language and eating, dressing and living habits of the Xibes in the northeast are close to those of the local Han and Manchu people. Living in more compact communities, those in Xinjiang have preserved more of the characteristics of their language script and life styles. The Xibe language belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic branch of the Altaic Language Family. Legend has it that the Xibe ethnic group once had its own script but has lost it after the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was founded. A growing number of Xibe people came to learn the Manchu and Han languages, the latter being more widely used. In Xinjiang, however, some Xibe people know both the Uygur and Kazak languages. In 1947, certain Xibe intellectuals reformed the Manchu language they were using by dropping some phonetic symbols and adding new letters of the Xibe language. This Xibe script has been used as an official language by the organs of power in the autonomous areas.

The Xibe ethnic minority in Xinjiang believed in Polytheism before China¡¯s national liberation in 1949. In addition to the gods of insect, dragon, land and smallpox, the Xibes also worshipped divine protectors of homes and animals. Besides, some Xibe people believe in Shamanism and Buddhism. The Xibe people are pious worshippers of ancestors, to whom they offer fish every March and melons every July.

In clothing, the Xibe women in Xinjiang like close-fitting long gowns reaching the instep. Their front, lower hem and sleeves are trimmed with laces. Men wear short jackets with buttons down the front, with the trousers tightly tied around the ankle. They wear long robes in winter. The Xibe costume in northeastern China is basically the same as that of the Han people. Rice and flour are staples for the Xibes. Those in Xinjiang who raise cattle and sheep like tea with milk, butter, cream, cheese and other dairy products. April 18 on the lunar calendar is the festival of the Xibes, who would make flour or bean sauce on this day to mark the successful conclusion of their ancestors' westward move. In autumn, they would pickle cabbage, leek, carrot, celery and hot pepper. The Xibes enjoy hunting and fishing during the slack farming season. They also cure fish for winter use.

There are usually 100 to 200 households in each Xibe village, which is enclosed with a wall two or three miles long. A Xibe house usually consists of three to five rooms with a courtyard, in which flowers and fruit trees are planted. The gates of the houses mostly face south. Xibe women are good at paper cutting, and windows are often decorated with beautiful paper-cuts.

In the past, each Xibe family used to consist of three generations, sometimes as many as four or five generations, being influenced by the feudal system. Marriage was, in most cases, decided by parents. Women held a very low status and had no right to inherit property. The family was governed by the most senior member who had great authority. When the father was living, the sons were not allowed to break up the family and live apart. In family life, the old and the young each had his position according to a strict order of importance, and they paid attention to etiquette. "Hala," a council formed by male clan heads, handled major issues within the clans and enforced clan rules.
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