Domesticating Elephants and Cattle

Wild Elephants

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Various animals were once the major sources of protein and fats of all the ethnical groups in Xishuangbanna. No one knows when they started to tame some of the animals in the rain forests. Usually, the weight of a home raised chicken is no more than 1 kilogram; its size, shape, color of feathers, and characters such as flying are quite similar with the wild pheasants in the rain forests; probably they are tamed wild pheasants. In the past, the farmers of Xishuangbanna also raised peacocks, we can rest assure that the peacocks are tamed peacocks. The "green feather" used by the emperors of the middle plains mostly came from the peacock feathers contributed by the chiefs of the tribes in the South of Yunnan. In history, all ethnical groups also have legends regarding the domesticating of wild elephants and cattle. From these legends, we can see some trace regarding how the taming of wild animals becomes an important part of the agricultural production for all ethnical groups living in the rain forests. 

There are many records in ancient Chinese documents regarding the taming of elephants in Xishuangbanna. The ancestors of the Dai folks were part of the "ethnical tribes of the South", and they were called "Dianyue tribes" by people in the middle plains. The places they lived were called "the kingdom riding on the backs of elephants" according to the records in The Biography of Da Wan/the Historical Records. The Records of Uncivilized Tribes also recorded "farming by elephants" of the Dai folks in Tang Dynasty. It reads: "in South of Kainan (East of Jinghong today), the folks raise elephants; elephants are bigger than cattle; each household will raise several elephants, and they use elephants to do farm work". It is very hard to do any textual research on when the folks started to tame elephants, but from "each household will raise several elephants", we can imagine that they must raise a lot of elephants. For example, when the Chief of the Right Dai folks, Pa Ya, established his "Jinglong Golden Palace Kingdom" (1160-1180), he had "9000 heads of elephants". The tamed elephants are used as "riding elephants", and they mainly rendered services to headmen of all levels. According to the records in the Ming Dynasty: "the local folks regard people who ride elephants as distinguished people. They make a tassel with several silver mirrors for the elephant, and the edges of the tassel are decorated with silver pins and bells. A man will walk by the saddle, and he will take an iron hook to control the walking speed of the elephant. The elephant queue often swaggers through the streets like shows". "Farming by elephants" means "the elephant will kick the soil with its feet, when the soil becomes soft, the farmers will plant the seeds in the soil". "War by elephant" means "the elephant will put on armors and gowns, like shields of an ancient fighter. On the bodies of the elephants, people will cover them with bamboo barrels, in which some short swords are placed and the soldiers will use them to prevent enemies from stabbing the elephants". Elephants were also used as important "local products" and were often contributed to the emperors in the middle plains. According to our incomplete statistics, within the 270 years of the Ming Dynasty, the royal family got altogether 27 batches of tamed elephants and trunks. In the past, many elephants were raised in Xishuangbanna, and each district had a village for raising elephants for the headman - the Manzhang; and that's why we can still find many villages have the name "Manzhang" in Xishuangbanna until today. Because of wars and contributions, the number of elephants reduced sharply; today, wild elephants have become a species in danger in Xishuangbanna. 

Regarding the taming of cattle, there is also records in Records of the Uncivilized Tribes: "In south of Tonghai, there are many wild cattle, 1000-2000 cattle are called a group. In the west of Minuojiang River, there are cattle; they are raised in south of Kainan; they are bigger than buffaloes, and each household will raise several heads; they can also farm". Xishuangbanna should be within the territory recorded. There is a folk song named "the Song for Poking the Cattle's Nose" and it described the process for the Dai ancestors to tame cattle: at the very beginning, they will tie the neck or horns of the cattle with a thick rope, because a cattle "looks like a tiger" and "thick ropes are broken, women dare not touch it and children dare not raise it". Such taming is quite like "the buffalo taming picture" drawn on the cliffs of Mount Huashanya, in Ningming, Guangxi by people of the past. (Refer to the picture). In the cliff picture, men tie the necks or horns of the cattle with thick ropes, and the angry of the cattle is quite vividly described in the picture. Though the person taming the cattle pulls the rope tightly, he stands far from the cattle; other people hold sticks in their hands and help to chase the cattle or stand afar to give assistance. Besides, in the cliff pictures discovered in Cangyuan, we also find the phenomenon that the people do not know how to poke the nose of the cattle. From this we can estimate that: the author of the Huashanya cliff pictures and the people described in the pictures in Cangyuan may have relations with the Dai folks, i.e. the so-called "uncivilized tribes" might be the ancestors of the Dai people today. But, this is something undetermined in the academic level. In the process of taming the cattle, the ancestors of the Dai folks obtained the experience that "men are afraid of their ears being seized, tigers are afraid of their teeth being pulled out, and cattle are afraid of their nose being poked". Finally, they tamed cattle by poking their noses. Then, what's the real situation at the time when cattle were tamed? According to the description in "Records of the Uncivilized Tribes" for "farming by cattle" and the description of "many families have elephants in Kainan, people who catch them will raise them, and let them farm for people"; the successful taming of cattle and their use in farming should not be earlier than the Tang Dynasty; because the appraiser of "farming by cattle" is the author of "Records of Uncivilized Tribes". Of course he knew the situation of farming by cattle in the middle plains; besides, his comments also prove that there was still no farming by cattle in south of Kainan at that time.