The Xibo people in Xinjiang are mainly distributed in Chabqar Xibo Autonomous County in Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture. And some also live in the counties and towns of North Xinjiang.
In ancient times, the Xibo people, living in the mountains of China’s northeast, lived by fishing and hunting. After the mid-17th century, they immigrated to the center part of Liaoning Province and lived on farming. The long-time fishing and hunting subsistence of Xibo people developed an ethnic sacrifice festival, which is held on the 18th of April of the lunar year after spring comes to the land.
In the mid-18th century, the Qing dynasty at its height finally quelled the rebellions in Junggar Mongols in Xinjiang. However, at that time, due to years of war, Xinjiang was sparsely populated and the army was not integrated. Therefore, the government of the Qing dynasty had to send the Xibos, Chahar Mongolians, and Daurs to move from northeast China to Xinjiang in order to consolidate and reinforce the northwestern border defenses. On April 18th of the lunar calendar, 1764, ordered by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Xibo officers and soldiers were forced to leave their homeland. Before the expedition, they and their families gathered in the Xibo’s shrine, saying goodbye to their folks and ancestors, and then came to live far apart in northeast and northwest China. In order to commemorate this historical event, Xibo people from near and far gather on this day to mark the successful end of their ancestors’ movement westward, hence the Festival of Migration Westward.
The Festival of Migration Westward is not only the biggest gathering for Xibo people but also a spectacular showcase to present the folk arts. Celebrating activities include picnicking, archery, martial arts contests, singing and dancing. In addition, performances offered by Xibo Shaman are enjoyable, such as scaling the knife ladder and the pole ladder and the Shaman dance. Scaling the high pole is regarded as a way to be closer to the gods. In order to show sincerity, knives replaced the poles to be rungs. Knife rungs range from 13 to 49.
The Shaman dance is characteristic of origin and mystery. The Shaman ties a long bell to his or her waist in the performance and holds a drum. One of the Shamans is the main performer, while the other one or two beat drums as accompaniment. The dance movements are in imitation of birds, beasts or all kinds of spirits. The highly skillful Shaman can turn round and round continuously with a multi-sided drum in hand.
Before the 1950s, the Festival of Migration Westward was held by the Xibo people spontaneously at the local temples and squares in the villages. Nowadays the local government sponsors the festival activities on a larger scale, with more diversity and a higher level of skill.
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