People of Kazakh ethnic group in NW China’s Xinjiang enjoy traditional Dongzai Festival

People of the Kazakh ethnic group in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, have started to make smoked horse meat and horse meat sausages while enjoying traditional sports to celebrate their traditional Dongzai Festival, CCTV News reported on Dec. 21.

Local people in Gongliu County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, prepare horse meat sausages. (Photo/CCTV News)

The Dongzai Festival is celebrated by Kazakh herdsmen every year from November to January. As the area of China with the most concentrated Kazakhs, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture has preserved many unique folk customs and traditions of the Kazakh ethnic group.

During the festival, local herdsmen in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture prepare meat in advance for the winter before the coldest days of the season. Since horse meat and horse meat sausages are their first choice of meat in the winter, almost every local family will slaughter a horse during the Dongzai Festival. In order to make these foods more delicious, people often smoke the meat over burning fruitwood or pine branches.

People of the Kazakh ethnic group smoke horse meat for the winter. (Photo/CCTV News)

In addition to preparing meat for the winter, local herdsmen also enjoy various traditional sports games on a snow-covered plateau to mark the Dongzai Festival, such as sheep-catching on horseback, “girl’s chase,” and horse racing.

Testing the strength and courage of riders, sheep-catching on horseback was included on China’s list of national-level intangible cultural heritages in 2008. To play, participants are divided into two teams, and whichever team can grab the slaughtered sheep and throw it on the shelf of the other team wins the game.

The sheep used in the sport weighs 15 kilograms and must be white, since white sheep symbolize a safe trip, according to a participant in the game.

People of the Kazakh ethnic group in Gongliu County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, enjoy a special sport, sheep-catching on horseback, during their traditional Dongzai Festival. (Photo/CCTV News)

“Girl’s chase,” previously used as an opportunity for young people to show their affection for each other, is an interesting sport on horseback that has been popular among young people of the Kazakh ethnic group.

In the game, single men and women first ride slowly to an appointed place, during which young men can show their affection to the girls they like. Then when they return, girls begin to chase and beat the men with whips. If a girl’s whip falls on the back of a man gently, then the man can know his love has been accepted.

The sport has gradually become a special item of the local tourism industry over time. Today, everyone who can ride a horse can take part in the game.

Horse racing is usually the final item of sports events in the locality. A lot of the competitors are teenagers, and in the races there are often different distances for horses of different age groups and breeds. 

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