The Jiejingu Festival takes place just outside Weishan each year. The Bai people of Dali and Wieshan believe their gods & ancestors have a home in each town depending on the time of year. In March residents of Dali travel to Wieshan to invite the gods back to their town. They travel to West Big Temples where there are 24 temples scattered around a village on a piece of hillside outside Wieshan. Each temple is maintained by individual villages and houses their representatives for the duration of the 3/4 day festival and are dedicated to Buddism, Taoism, Confucianism, Ancestor-worship and the Nature God.
The day starts with rain. The bus slides its way up the mountain on a dirt track and parks outside the village. The temples are small and rather dilapidated with faded decorations and colours but rather mysterious in the dampness and swirling cloud.
Each one houses a small group of villagers, mostly grandmothers, from different districts who have been camping overnight for the last few days. Inside the confines of the temples offerings for the gods are prepared. These consist of large pans of dead chickens, simmering vats of braising pigs, saucepans full of hard-boiled eggs and incense sticks.
As the morning progresses these are paraded around the village to the different temples and shrines, accompanied by the smoke and explosions of rounds of fire crackers and the cries and calls of friends & family. Surely, after all this effort, gods & ancestors alike must feel welcome at this annual shindig.
At the same time a wonderful melodious chanting marathon begins where lines of women take up the rhythmic baton from each other while playing simple percussion instruments.
The men gather in groups watching the proceedings and do what men do best – sitting around looking important and smoking and playing cards.
The Dali brigade have made lunch for the few westerners there. Bowls of rice, sliced potatoes, spicy shredded carroty stuff, cheesy wafers and pork with chilies are laid before us with apologies for its simplicity due to the fact that they are far from home. Was fine by me.
The atmosphere was gloriously friendly with the locals almost applauding us for being there. Most wanted their photos taken and smiled with glee when describing the results, especially the group of smoking men, one of whom rushed indoors to find his big pipe so he could pose with it.
Later on in the day groups move off and dancing takes place in each of the temples before participants sink, exhausted, to the cobbled stones and blankets around sleep until dawn.
Tomorrow they will return to Dali with artefacts & memorabilia, feeling content.