Tujia Minority Christians Bring Traditional Culture into Worship

By Josiah Li, April 25, 2018 08:04 AM

The believers of Jiaoziya Church performed the reformed Maogusi dance on Christmas.

Sister Tan(right) and another sister danced an original dance made by her.

Inside Jiaoziya Church

Jiaoziya Church

The Tujia ethnic minority is good at singing and dancing. They sing folk songs when doing farm work and are famous for the traditional Maogusi Dance and Baishou Dance.

Tujia people account for 70% of the total population of Zhangjiajie, a prefecture-level city in the northwestern part of Hunan Province. The church in Zhangjiajie stages their traditional dances and folk songs in another form.

Sister Tan Aiqi, head of the church in Jiaoziya Town, said that her church was the first one to mix Tujia traditional culture into worship. The first successful attempt could be traced back to Christmas of 1998.

In 1997, Sister Tan converted to Christianity at 30. Some time after joining the church, she was put in charge of the choir. In 1998, local religious officials proposed the idea that Christianity should integrate with society and not lose the Tujia culture, hoping that the church could produce works with their culture. The task fell on Jiaoziya Church. Sister Tan wrote lyrics, composed music, and created dances based on the characteristics of Tujia dances and folk songs. Two programs with Tujia characteristics were performed on Christmas, winning praise from many believers.

Since then, some churches in Zhangjiajie followed the example. Hymns and dances with Tujia ethnic features have become one of the characteristic programs of the church in Zhangjiajie.The hymns are compiled as a hymnal named Tujia Children Praise God that is widespread locally.  

The church in Zhangjiajie was also invited to perform in other places. She said, "They (non-local believers) love our costumes and our singing voices that nonnatives are unable to acquire."

Although she never studied music professionally, she can write poetry based on familiar folk tunes. Her talent has a lot to do with her mother who likes singing. She was impressed by Tea Picking Song, a folk song her mother used to sing. The older Christians are really fond of singing. When she went to the church the first time, some old ladies "sang" the Bible rather than read it. They loved to sing the Bible to different tunes. 

She removes the action of worship in traditional dances in choreography and makes a few changes in dance costume design in consideration of the solemnity of worshiping God. For example, participants have to wear short pants in the Maogusi dance, but believers wear formal clothes and use straws as a symbolic stage property. She added that they only perform these original songs and dances at festivals like Christmas and sing mainstream hymns in regular services.

- Translated by Karen Luo

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