In Cangyuan county , Lincang prefecture, the local Wa people have a festival in early May called “moh nin hei”, which is neatly transliterated into Chinese as “rub you black” : pretty much the main activity of the festival. However, according to the county’s local official, the actual meaning of the Wa expression reflects the festival fundamental spiritual importance: “this is what we pursue, what we wish for, what we persist in, will strive for forever.”
Wa people revere the color black, for them dark skin signifies diligence and health. If a Wa man marries a white skinned girl (which is the aesthetic ideal for Han Chinese), she would be teased as a “lazy wife”. The traditional Wa clothes are all based around black, and in the past they had the custom of dying their teeth, because “black and shiny teeth matches black healthy skin, this is the way of the Wa people.” A proverb says “To dance together we must be in step, to laugh together we must all have black teeth.” Thus, during the moh nin hei festival, the blackest person is the most beautiful (“long la lei”, which means the blacker you are, the more beautiful you are).
The origin story of the moh nin hei festival says that in ancient times, when it was still the custom to wear animal skins, the heavy pelts proved an obstacle when avoiding fearsome wild animals so people had to run naked. However, being naked the people found the sunlight and insects unbearable. To solve this, they learned from observing the water buffalo rolling in the mud. The people saw the protection this bestowed, and rolled in the mud themselves. After a time, they discovered that the region’s local fragrant mud had other special properties, acting as an analgesic, reducing swellings, and purifying the body of toxins. The fragrant mud became an indispensable medicine.
Traditionally the ingredients added to the black “fragrant” mud were black carbon stuck to the bottom of cooking pots (they cook with wood), ox blood, and the “magic” local mud.
Today the ingredients are:
A magical herb Niang-bu-luo (a wild growing plant that is traditionally believed to be able to bring the dead back to life, though today commonly used for its cooling and cosmetic properties), as well as rice powder, the local mud and cocoa powder.
It is believed that when the mud is applied to a girls face it will make her more beautiful, it grants the elderly health and long life, and on a child peace and luck. A face that is completely black signifies eternal happiness. The blacker it is, the happier one will be.
Source: Yunnan Info [in Chinese, but more fun photos]
Photos by email@example.com, a moderator of the yninfo.com forums, published with permission.