China: a Town's Traditional Fire Festival

Collection with 25 media items created by Teo Butturini

11 Aug 2013 22:00

The town of Dali lies on the banks of the Erhai lake, at the center of the Chinese province of Yunnan. Dali’s Old Town district can be dated back to the fourteenth century, the time of the Ming dynasty. It holds the ancient city wall and traditional houses that are typical of this Chinese region.

In the first half of August, the local Yi and Bai minorities celebrate the Torch Festival to commemorate Atilaba, a legendary character who, according to local beliefs, drove away locusts using torches made from pine trees. It is the largest local festival, and each minority celebrates it on a different day, according to its own calendar.

Most of the people here celebrate with their families. Family members gather for a big dinner before taking the traditional walk on the streets holding torches. Restaurants and hotels prepare for this day by buying huge food supplies to serve thousands of tourists who come to Dali to attend the rituals.
People in the Old Town start their day very early to prepare for the Torch Festival. Street vendors set up their stands at six in the morning to serve the huge numbers of customers.
Pork and chicken butchers slaughter animals brought from the countryside, letting blood run copiously to give a scene that some might not be able to stomach.

By nine in the morning markets and streets are bustle with people selling and buying food, toys, decorations, and torches for the celebrations that will start at night.

A huge number of tourists, both Chinese and foreigners, contribute to the confusion and make it a challenge to walk the streets of Dali on this day.
The smell of all kinds of food starts to spread everywhere, and it is difficult to avoid stopping here and there to have a taste of some local snacks while waiting for the sunset.

As soon as it gets dark the locals leave their homes and light up the big torches they have set up right in front of their doors, or dance in circles around bonfires in the town’s main squares.

Others walk down the road and, following the tradition, hold small torches while throwing a mixture of sawdust and pine resin at other people’s torches to start a flare. This is a way to wish friends and relatives well; throwing resin powder on an old man’s fire symbolizes wishing him long life and good health.

Nowadays the rituals have changed. The younger generations probably got bored with the ancient celebrations, and decided to add their twist. They run around town with bags full of sawdust and take people by surprise by throwing it on their torches to create a flare and scare them.
They indiscriminately attack friends and strangers, and the festival suddenly turns into a of street battle between teenagers. Luckily, flames subside quickly and do not harm those who fall victims to the teenagers’ pranks, even if they might look on fire.

A large number of policemen and firefighters stand by on the streets to keep the situation under control and make sure youngsters do not go too wild. As soon as they leave, though, the game starts again and goes on till late, especially in hangouts like the Bad Monkey. A group of foreigners got together there to enjoy the festival – they got drunk and lit up the road in front of the bar during the whole night.

Dali Torch Festival China Yunnan August Celebrations Market Crowds Fire Streets Food Family Families Dinner Asia Traditional ... Traditions Tradition Pine Pines Friends Games Traditional ... Human Interest Human Interests Party Celebration Children Local People Pigs Pig Food Market People Gathe... Fire Dance Fun Positive

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Dali torch festival 14
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A young man during the Torch Festival runs holding a large lit torch.

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Dali torch festival 25
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Tourists light their torches in front of the Bad Monkey bar at the center of Dali.

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Dali torch festival 24
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A young man during the Torch Festival celebrations in a public square at the center of Dali throws pine resin on his torch to make it flare .

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Dali torch festival 23
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Two friends light up their torches from a bonfire in the the street during the celebrations for the Dali Torch Festival.

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Dali torch festival 22
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A man throws pine resin dust on his girlfriend's torch during the celebrations for the Dali Torch Festival.

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Dali torch festival 21
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Tourists and locals dance around a fire during the celebrations for the Torch Festival in Dali.

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Dali torch festival 20
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A young man is wrapped in flames after his friends threw pine resin on his torch.

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Dali torch festival 19
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A young man plays with fireballs attached to chains on the streets of Dali's Old Town, creating a spectacle for locals' and tourists' cameras.

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Dali torch festival 18
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
11 Aug 2012

A young boy holds a lit torch during the celebrations of the Dali Torch Festival.

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Dali torch festival 17
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
11 Aug 2012

Policemen patrol the streets of Dali's Old Town during the Torch Festival to make sure that nobody gets hurt.

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Dali torch festival 16
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
11 Aug 2012

Teenagers play with fire, turning the traditional celebrations for the Dali Torch Festival into a spectacular but harmless battle.

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Dali torch festival 15
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A young man dares his friends to throw sawdust on his torch during the Dali Torch Festival.

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Title photo for the collection
Dali torch festival 01
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Dali's Old Town merchants prepare their stands in the morning before customers arrive to buy fresh food ahead of the evening festivities.

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Dali torch festival 13
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
11 Aug 2012

Dali residents and tourists light their torches from a fire during the traditional Torch Festival.

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Dali torch festival 12
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
11 Aug 2012

Tourists and tourist guides dressed in traditional costumes dance around a fire during the celebrations of the Torch Festival in Dali.

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Dali torch festival 11
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A huge torch burns in front of a hotel in Dali's Old Town. After dusk, torches can be seen burning in front of most of houses in town, following the traditional rituals.

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Dali torch festival 10
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A man is seen selling torches of different sizes on the streets of Dali's Old Town. The bags in front of him are filled with a powder made by mixing sawdust and pine resin, which is used during the celebrations.

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Dali torch festival 09
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A tourist guide takes her lunch break on a bench. The festival has become a popular attraction for tourists traveling in the region during the festival.

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Dali torch festival 08
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A woman buys meat in the morning before the Torch Festival festivities begin.

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Dali torch festival 07
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Pig heads are piled into baskets, ready to be sold to customers who will use them to make local delicacies.

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Dali torch festival 06
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A butcher waits for customers at his stand in one of Dali's Old Town markets.

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Dali torch festival 05
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A man carries a slaughtered pig to the market in Dali's Old Town in order to sell its meat to people preparing public meals for the Torch Festival celebrations.

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Dali torch festival 04
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Local vendors slaughter and pluck chickens in preparation for the celebrations of the Torch Festival.

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Dali torch festival 03
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

A young Chinese woman sells chickens in one of the street markets in Dali's Old Town.

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Dali torch festival 02
Yunnan, China
By Teo Butturini
12 Aug 2012

Merchants prepare for a busy day ahead of the Torch Festival celebrations.