Daur, the Lost People of Northern China. Part.1

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

The warm winter always reminds me of the cold northern and the lost people on that land.

Who are we

I often tell my friends that everything is decent in the Nordic winter, except for the long night. The response is frankly the same: "Are you kidding me, how is this cold weather comfortable?" To be honest, the humid sea breeze in winter is an extravagant hope in my hometown, and the cold wind blowing from Siberia often lasts for six months. Therefore, my childhood dream was never about the size of the future house. At least one fireplace was enough.

If I only introduce the climate of that land to you, this article may be too unnecessary. Nature is just a bystander without emotion, maybe it was still freezing millions of years ago and no one care. What I miss is the group of lost Daurs who migrated from the millennium ago to today.

The outside world knows very little about the Daur people. After all, China is usually a crowded country with a population of 1.4 billion. In fact, 1% of Chinese in a broad sense are other 55 ethnic minorities. The Daur is a even smaller part of it. Today, 130,000 Daurs live on the vast grasslands at the border between China, Russia and Mongolia in northern China.

My mother's family are all Daurs. They originally had their own unique surnames. Since the founding of PRC China, they have been unified as the Han people surnames for identity management. Daur's words have been lost in the war years, and now Daur's language has gradually declined. The last time I heard my mother and grandmother speaking Daur was in my childhood, and now I have forgotten even the few words my mother taught me. The Daurs are descendants of the ancient Khitan people. They use a language system that is completely different from Chinese. It is more similar to the Tungusic languages of Mongolia and Northern Siberia. The pronunciation is in low tune, and when it is sang, it echoes crisply.

The Myth of Shaman

The Daurs are a minority of Shamanism. Several decades ago, there were priests and mages among the Daurs to eliminate disasters and pray for blessings. Shamanism believes that all creatures have spirits, and almost everything they see has soul. As a nomad, before every hunting and fishing activities, the priests in the tribe will pray for the blessing of the god of the forest and the lake.

Daur people pray for blessings before winter fishing

"Hunt but don't extinct" is the code of Daur hunters. Daur hunters only chase old prey, leave young to ensure the reproduction of the group. Unlike destroying forests to reclaim fields, traditional Daurs only collect natural crops and wild herbs. A thousand years of experience gifts the unique Daur food culture. I admit that the wild herb soup I ate in a childhood spring was the closest time to "tasting" nature. The fresh aroma gave me immortal memory.

Shamanism has many gods, but there is no main god. The most sacred is the sky, which is called "Tengri" in Daur language (Similar to "sky" in many nomadic languages). It originated from the ancestors' awe of the endless sky on the vast grassland. People think that the sky is the master of everything, and the eagle soaring in the sky is his messenger. When eagle hunts, it is quick and fierce, and the strong body is silently approaching the prey with a single blow. More importantly, the eagle only hunts weak and old animals, which is consistent with Daur's beliefs. I don’t know whether Daur was inspired by eagles or worshipped eagles because of creeds. But in short, eagle is the totem of the Daurs.

Daur riders with hunting eagles
Eagle totem

Corresponding to the noble sky represented by the eagle, there are many totems on the earth. The Daur ethnic group is divided into many tribes, all of which are related by blood, but intermarriage is prohibited. Each tribe has different gods and totems determined by different areas and ways of lifving. It must be said that the tribe of the fox totem including priests and physicians, the salmon totem is the symbol of the fishing tribe, and the bear totem is the symbol of the warrior and wrestler tribe. There are also some clans who believe in horse totem. My ancestors were probably tribes who were engaged in hunting on the prairie, so my totem is the wolf. There are too many stories to tell about the creeds of different totems, just wolf totem is worth to writing a book. If you are interested, I will write more stories about wolf totem.

Daurs are good at horsemanship and archery

There are many legends about Daur and real stories that happened to me. Of course, I only write some interesting and unforgettable stories here. When I was a weak kid, I often had high fever and spoke nonsense at late night. Maybe these can be explained by modern medicine, but my grandmother had been taking care of my health problems more than ten years ago. In my memory, she said that I was entangled with "evil spirit". Although I still don't know what she meant to do next, I still followed her guide as the young fella. She drew weird symbols on some rune paper, and said something incomprehensible in mouth. Then she asked me to try to stand a pair of chopsticks in the bowl. It ’s amazing that I did it (sometimes I think about it now but it ends in failure). She then picked up a silver knife and chopped chopsticks, told me to spit at the rune paper. After these things were completed, I could sleep peacefully for the night, and my body would be in good condition the next day.

My old friends always discuss my mysticism and try to convince me that as an educated adult, I should not believe in some superstitions that are illusory. As a person who loves science, I naturally recognize and indulge in mathematical laws and physical theories. However, I still believe that seeing is believing, I can't make sure that they don't exist for anything unknown. Even our existing scientific system cannot explain the causes of phenomena in all universes or microcosms, right?

Shaman costume

I think this part of the Daur introduction will stop here. Perhaps for most people and even Chinese, they know very little about the culture and history of ethnic minority areas in the north. History has not erased this once splendid civilization. The Daurs are still riding on the grassland. They still retain most of the thousands of years of historical customs and awe of nature. I hope to use my own words, I can witness this unforgettable part of humanity, so that it will not be lost.

To be continued...

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