Chinese New Year in Hainan ②: Spend CNY with a Tanka Family

By Cai Rong / HICN / Updated: 2021-02-12,17:16

Editor’s Note:

The ox plows the lush green fields, and the bird sings on branches covered in bright red flowers. As the earth begins to awaken from her winter nap, we welcome in 2021, the Chinese New Year of the Ox. Spring Festival is China’s most important, most festive, and most traditional holiday, rich in symbolic activities like pasting up Spring Festival couplets beside your door, hanging red, glowing lanterns, reuniting with friends and family, making wishes for the new year, attending temple fairs…

Spring Festival has been celebrated in China for 4,000 years. In Hainan, China's only tropical island province, Spring Festival customs and traditions can differ from village to village, and town to town. Seeing off the Kitchen God, sweeping the house clean, making New Year’s rice cakes, “surrounding the stove” with dish after dish of tasty traditional foods, lighting up the whole house, and staying up all night to welcome in the New Year are all local Hainan Spring Festival customs.

As Chinese traditions become more well-known across the globe, more and more people have joined the celebrations all around the world. As the Year of the Ox arrives, the sweet aroma of the Chinese New Year is once again drifting over the seas.

To share the Chinese New Year celebrations with the world as we welcome Spring Festival here in Hainan, the Hainan International Media Center and the Hainan International Communication Network are putting together a special series on Spring Festival in Hainan.

We’ve sent three international reporters, Lara, Tommy, and Polina, to Li mountain villages, into ancient lanes, and to all kinds of different places to discover how the people of Hainan celebrate the New Year, experience for themselves the unique Spring Festival atmosphere on the island, and get a feel for Hainan’s special holiday customs.

(Photo by Chen Yuanneng)

If you ever find yourself in Hainan, there’s one place that you have to see before leaving. That’s the Floating Village in Xincun Town in Lingshui Li Autonomous County. In the Floating Village, there is a special group who spend most their lives on the water and make their living from the sea. They are the Danjia people, also known as the Tanka. 

During the Spring Festival, Lara will take you to the Floating Village, where she will take a look at the Tanka people’s daily lives and how they spend their Spring Festival.

In the past, the Tanka people made their living by going out to sea to fish. Later, as society changed, the Tanka people gradually moved from the sea to the shore. While maintaining their fishing lifestyle, they have transformed their fishing rafts into fish farms and now raise fish. So in the Floating Village, you can enjoy floating in a boat on the sea and see how the Tanka people go out to the sea to fish and raise their fish. 

(Photo by Chen Yuanneng)

Plus, you can hear special Tanka songs here. The Tanka songs were shortlisted as an intangible cultural heritage item by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2020. This is due to the history and the cultural value associated with the songs sung by the Tankas - who used to live on boats at sea in southern China. There are different genres of Tanka songs, each with their own special purpose.


(Photo by Chen Yuanneng)

When it is time to eat, you can try specialty Tanka cuisine. Tanka people eat their dinner in the afternoon because they need go to bed early and go out to the sea to fish next early morning, even during the Spring Festival.

On normal days, Tanka people’s meals are simple. During Spring Festival, they will prepare more dishes to celebrate, including fish and chicken soup, traditional dishes of the Tanka people. They started eating these dishes long ago because they are so convenient. They are easy to clean up and don’t require a lot of utensils or dishes. As a bonus, not many ingredients are needed to make these foods taste delicious!

It is a good idea to spend a whole day with the Tanka people, especially during Spring Festival. The nomadic spirits of the Tanka people will surely warm your heart and make you even more curious about this unique group of people!

(Photo by Chen Yuanneng) 

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