Lisu's Knife-ladder-climbing Festival

At the day of Knife-ladder-climbing festival, several strong men will show the "Daohuo" rite. They jump into the heap coals of fire with their naked feet to perform all kinds of unique stunts. The next day, they sharpen the 36 long knives and horizontally tie the long knives with upturned knife edge on two 20-meter-highs wooden pole. These wooden poles are called “the knife ladder”. Performers use their naked hands and feet to rapidly climb the knife ladder from the bottom to the top. When they reach the top of the knife ladder, they will play some highly difficult movements. Nowadays, this breathtaking memorial ceremony has enveloped into a sport activity for brave Lisu man to perform their unique stunts.

Lisu's Knife-ladder-climbing Festival

The Origin

The main performance in Lisu`s Knife-ladder-climbing Festival is “Shang Danshan, Xia Huohai”. Being a traditional folk custom, the performance reappear the life history and the arduous spirit of people in mountainous regions. It is said that the original intention of Lisu`s Knife-ladder-climbing Festival is to commemorate a Han hero. In the Ming Dynasty, a war minister named Wangji came to Lisu area to implement the central order of stationing united army-and-civilian defense around the habitat of Lisu people, calming down rebellion and recapturing the occupied land. The soldiers drove away the invasive enemies under the cooperation of local people. In order to strengthen the resistance and ability of border, Wangji guided the local Lisu youth to practice martial art. However, the emperor heard and believed slanders about Wangji and poisoned him. Consequently, the Lisu people memorized Wangji's deathday as their national traditional festival and employed “Shang Danshan, Xia Huohai” to express their thanks to Wangji.

The Major Activities

Each year, Lisu people wear their splendid attire and come to the square in a group to watch “Shang Danshan, Xia Huohai”. The activities consist of several procedures including Dianhua, Diandao, Shuadao, Yinghua, Shetan, Jidaogan, Shugan, Jilong, Shangdao, Zhedao and Xiahuohai. All of these procedures compounds of a set of strict rite. The "Shang Danshan, Xia Huohai" is the most heart-stopping part among all procedures.

At the Knife-ladder-climbing Festival Eve, the horizon glows with the raging flames, and the sound of mans gongs reverberate around the whole valley. People come from far and near to take part in the opening ceremony of Knife-ladder-climbing Festival in the bonfires. The first item is the Fire Dancing, which is performed by seven to eight Xiangtongs. The topless and feet-naked men imitate various motions of beasts and jump backward and forward in a pile of burning charcoal. They continually catch charcoal fire to daub their bodies. The round fire balls are rolled and kneaded within their hands. All these performances express a brave and fearless spirit of Lisu people. The baptism of fire indicates disaster eliminating in a new year.

Lisu's Knife-ladder-climbing Festival culture

“Shangdaogan” is held in the next morning. People sharpen the 36 long knives and horizontally tie the long knives with upturned knife edge on two 20-meter-highs wooden pole. These wooden poles are called “the knife ladder”. The knife ladders are standing in the center of square. At the beginning of the rite, several men dressed in red clothes and wore a red envelope head arrive the bottom of knife ladder with their naked feet. Go down on their knees in front of an ancient painting, they raise the glass over their heads. Muttering incantations, and then they chugalug drink off.

The performers airily and promptly climb upon the Knife-ladder in the sounds of firecrackers and drums. Stamping on the sharp blades and catching the Knife-ladder, they climb up step by step. When the performers reach the top of ladder, they will successively show some items, like opening the heaven gate, hanging red and scattering grain. The first one who reaches the top of ladder will show highly difficult handstand and set off fireworks. Thousands of audiences look up and cheer frequently around the square. Finally, the performers get together on the top of ladder to express victory. They throw many little red flag to all sides, wishing the most favorable auspices happen to the Lisu people.

The Heritage Values

The Knife-ladder-climbing festival is the product of natural worship in Lisu nationality. It embodies the patriotic spirit and the fearlessness of danger and difficulty of Lisu people. This age-old and unique Knife-ladder-climbing festival has officially set as the traditional sports activities of Lisu. Our country always attaches great importance to the protection of non-material cultural heritage. The Knife-ladder-climbing festival has been listed in the first national nonmaterial cultural heritage list with the approval of the state council.

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