The Dai, people of the tropical forest
Gardians of the forest
Around the twisted roots of the banyan trees, the forest is lush and the air humid and warm. We are at the heart of the only tropical forest in China, in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, in Yunnan Province.
As assertive people, the Dai maintain a harmonious and sacred bond with nature. They believe the forest is the cradle of humanity. On their tiny but fertile land, they eke out a living through subsistence agriculture and animal rearing, agroforestry, hunting and fishing. Whatever else they need, they barter for or find at the market in the nearby villages and towns.
Xishuangbanna means “Land of twelve thousand rice fields” in the Dai language.
The Dai share many cultural traits with Thai people.
Representing just 0,2% of China’s territory, Xishuangbanna is home to 5,000 plant species, 500 mammal species, more than 60 species of amphibian and reptile, 300 bird species, and so on. In 1950, 67% of the Dai land was covered in forest. By the beginning of the XXIst century, this had fallen to just 30%.
In the forest of lanterns of the Dream Lake Garden in the Montreal's Botancal Garden, four figures illustrate two of Xishuangbanna’s peoples with a profund respect for nature – the Dai and the Hani. The Dai have been exploiting the forest in an eco-friendly manner for some 2,000 years.
An illustrative panel about the Dai peuple in the Dream Lake Garden in Montreal. Photo : Univers.GrandQuebec.com