Lisu Traditional New Year Festival

The Festival of “Climbing Ladder of Knives”

  • By U Lay Gyi
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    Lisu “Warriors” climbing ladder of knives.

There lived in Kachin State, 6 Kachin national ethnics, 5 Shan national ethnics and other national ethnic people, namely—Bamar, Rakhine, Kayin, Mon and etc., sharing same foods on the same land in unity and peace for many years. While living together, they mutually pay respect to the traditions and cultures of the local residents. Out of the extra-ordinary characteristics in Kachin State ceremonies traditionally held annually, according to their cultures are very interesting. Among them are Manaw [Manaung] ceremony and Htaung-Kar dancing ceremony of Kachin nationals, traditional New Year Festival and Soon-offering ceremony to Sanghas at the New Harvest Season of Shan nationals with another exciting festival of Lisu nationals, “Climbing a ladder with sword-blades used as stairs,” included.
The above-said festival was held in “tein chung” town in Yunnan Province, People’s Republic of China by Lisu National Ethnics starting from 1910, with that kind commencing to be held at Mar Ka village, Sa Done in Kachin State as of 1920.
Prior to the celebration of the festival, the persons—at least 5, and 10 at the utmost, who will take part in climbing the post of sword-blades have to pay tributes to traditional gods in the jungle for a month, during which no women are accessible this place. For them to take food and live there along the period only the male agents of kind of séance must take responsibility. In offering the sacrifices to the gods, traditionally distilled moonshine, a roasted fowl and 3 or 5 boiled eggs are given with great respect so that the two traditional gods can take the savors of the sacrificial offerings happily. Those who will participate in the climbing ceremony have to pay respect two times a day—once in the morning and once more in the evening, wishing their prayers for the success of the festival. Their traditional gods include “the god of iron” and “the god of fire.” Just prior to the end of one-month period, the agents of séance have to offer a medium-sized swine and a hen to the gods by reciting their traditional talks. These were recounted in detail by U David Fish, the 71-year-old chairman of Lisu Christian Church in Kachin State.

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Lisu ethnic people celebrates their traditional New Year Festival.

Those who offer sacrificial offerings to the traditional gods are required to abstain from eating meats, being as the vegetarians for one month. Leftovers after offering to the gods can be consumed by helpers in offering the sacrificial food. According to them, the disciplines of the festivals are very strict. Had a mistake been made concerning the disciplines, it will be dangerous for the participants who will climb the post, it was said.
U David Fish went on to explain, “Disciplines are too strict to make a mistake. Failing that, sword-blades will cut climbers’ feet and hands as a punishment of the god of iron and the god of fire. Swords are sharpened as much as possible. The ladder is made up of over 100 swords, to be exact, 42 and 72 swords without handles. The ground of the festival is cleansed by the agents of séance. According to the tradition, on surrounding area of the ground liquor is poured down as a sign of inviting the gods. Before erecting the ladder, it was placed on the ground with pieces of wood under, to fasten swords. In fitting these swords, blades are put upward. Just after that, the ladder must to be erected. The ladder is erected just after the agents of séance must make solemn pledge that three to five persons are to climb the ladder. The moment after the ladder has been put up in the vertical position one of the séance agents has to climb up the ladder to take four flags fastened to the ladder, dashing them into the ground of four directions, after wishing prayers for the prosperity, peace, stability and people’s health. In case, flags fell onto the ground, prayers will not be met in that direction.”
Before celebrating the festival, those who will participate in climbing the ladder of swords firstly must undergo the test of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers. Only the persons without any blisters after passing fire are chosen for climbing.
The traditional festival of climbing the ladder of swords started in China since over one hundred years ago, and it was introduced in Myanmar, entering nearly one hundred years. Until now, Lisu nationals are holding the existing practice of climbing sword-studded ladder.
After the festival, swords are unfastened after giving respects to the guardian of iron and the guardian of the fire. After that the occasion of taking auspice is held. The climbing festival of ladder of swords is not held every year, only once every three years. Lisu nationals believe that holding the festival can bring about peace and stability, health and happiness, abundance of crops, development and prosperity. Being the festival held by the Lisu nationals only out of 135 national ethnic people living in Myanmar, people from home and abroad are greatly interested in it, visiting the Lisu Traditional New Year Festival celebrated at Pammati Quarter of Myitkyina in Kachin State.
Now that Lisu Traditional New Year Festival [Khawshi] will be held from 16 January to 18 January 2018 in Puta-O, traditional festival of Lisu Nationals, “Over Sword-Like Mountain and Across Flaming Sea,” will be included, to which the State Leaders and responsible officials have been invited. Arrangements have been made for interested global trotters national brethren living in the nation to be able to pay a visit to the place. We welcome you with open arms.

Translated by
Khin Maung Oo

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