Friday, November 13, 2020

Legend of the Eagle Dance

Eagle Dance of the Sarikoli

The eagle is a national symbol of the Sarikoli and Wakhi peoples of the Chinese Pamirs, and the eagle dance is a source of deep pride for these Tajik people of Xinjiang, being one of their indispensable forms of folk performance art. The following is an account of the legend that inspired the eagle dance, from an ethnographic survey of the Dances of the Chinese Minorities by Li Beida (李北達):
The eagle flute and the eagle dance are the favourite musical instrument and dance of the Tajik ethnic group. As to the origin of the eagle flute and the eagle dance, there is a popular legend among the Tajik people.

Long ago, there was a young Tajik couple on the Pamir Plateau. They were both serfs and deeply in love with each other. However, according to local laws, the serfs were not permitted to love and marry freely. When their cruel owner found out they were in love, he deliberately separated them. He exiled the young man to pasture in the distant high mountains and the young lady to work in his house. Although these lovers were forced to be separated, their love grew deeper than ever before.

One day, when the young man was pasturing a herd of sheep on the mountain, he saw a group of hawks soaring in the blue sky. It caused him to feel a rhythm strong with both power and gentleness. He also heard the exciting sound from the wings of the hawks. The young man was inspired by the birds and picked up a wing bone of a dead eagle and bored three small holes on it. Then, he polished it into a flute. Later, at every dusk, he played this eagle flute toward the direction of the village where the girl was. The sound of the flute was soft in tone but loud in volume, exhibiting the lover’s yearning. This sound flew all the way into the ears of his lover.

The girl also missed her lover day and night. Each night, she snuck to the foot of the mountain and looked up into it. At that time, the melodious sound of the flute met her ears. One night, she saw a big eagle circle over the mountains, sail straight up to the clouds, and then dive with the speed of a thunderbolt. The girl admired its actions very much. She began to imitate the movement of the hawks. Fuelling her actions was her longing for her lover and her desire for freedom. Thus, the eagle dance came into being.

At last, the young man and woman prevailed against the evil will of their master through their arduous persistence, and married happily. The eagle flute and the eagle dance which they created are very popular on the Pamir Plateau, and it has become an essential treasure for the Tajiks. It is this beautiful old legend that explains the sentiments of the Tajiks concerning the instrument and the dance. The eagle flute and the eagle dance cannot be used separately, just like the lovers who were attached to each other.
As indicated by the legend, the eagle dance is often slow and fluid and light, emulating the lofty soaring motions of flight, but requires both power and grace, both technical skill and improvisation. In the Republic period, before 1949, only men were permitted to perform the dance; however, since that time women have been allowed to participate in the dance as well. It was traditional, in fact, for men and women to dance as couples (again, as the legend would appear to indicate).

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