Forests and Dai Singers (Zanha)

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The Dai folks in Xishuangbanan call singers "Zanha"; and Zanha can be both professional and amateur singers. In important occasions, such as on the funerals or the wedding ceremonies, the Dai folks will invite "Zanha" to sing songs; the lyric sometimes expresses good wishes, sometimes are eulogies, and sometimes are just narrations of stories etc. "Zanha" appeared in quite a long time ago, and the history of their appearance might exceed 1000 years. Nowadays, Zanha has become an artful style loved by local folks. "Zanha" plays very important role in preserving, spreading and developing the arts and literature of the Dai people, or we can even say that they have made remarkable contributions in these aspects. The Dai folks believe that, "if there is no Zanha in life, it is just like a dish without salt"; and this also explains why there are always "Zanha" in all Dai villages. 

All the legends of the Dai people in the form of poems or Zanha have relations with the tropical rain forests, animals and plants of the forests. One of the legends says that "dropping water becomes songs". Once, a girl was touched by the clear, graceful and restrained dropping sounds of water; the sounds and the heartbeats of the girl echoed in harmony, and together they brought Zanha into being. The second legend goes: a girl made various flowers into a garland and put it on her head; the flowers made the butterflies and bees crazy, and they flew to and fro around the garland; the songs of bees and butterflies intoxicated the girl and she learnt to sing songs; then, she invented Zanha. So, "Zanha" comes from the revelation of bees and butterflies. Another legend goes: a girl fell in love with a bird, "Nuogeluo", who could sing graceful and restrained songs. After the bird died away, its soul entered the girl's heart, and she became the first Zanha of the Dai people. So, we can believe that the engendering of the Dai ballads, poems, literary works or Zanha are the bionics of things in the tropical rain forests. 

Three hundred years ago, in his book "On the Poems of the Dai People", a Dai poet said: "the most outstanding features of folk ballads are that, they describe what the authors' see, and what the authors' think casually. The authors' feelings are stirred up at the sight of some scenes, and they sing everything within their horizon. The ballads are quite casual, and they follow no stereotypes". Since the Dai people live in the boundless tropical rain forests, what they can get their hands and eyes on are mainly the colorful animals and plants in the tropical rain forests. The so-called "casualty" means that, things they most frequently see are scenes when people are collecting or hunting in the forests, or how people work in the forests, the relationship of the folks, and various religious activities etc.; so these things become the contents they "want" to sing. So to speak, "song of collection" describes the Dai folks' ancestors' collection life in the rain forest. It says: "some climb on straight trees, and some climb on tortured trees; some pick up fruits, and some are eating fruits; some are shaking the trees, some are collecting fruits, and some are striving for fruits; some are crying, and some are laughing". So, the description is vivid and chaste. Another poem, "Bird Shit Paddy", describes the scenes when their ancestors first found "bird shit paddy". It says: "young and green grasses stick out from the place where mice and bird shit; the plants knurl and produce small grains,... the grains are tasty,... they bring the grains home and plant them in the land of reels along the banks of the river". The poem describes the scenes when the Dai people began to plant rice.