I returned to Bangkok very late last night after 9 days of filming in southern China… Although shooting in China certainly presented some challenges, I was luckily working with my good friend and MONDO BANANA’s Chinese Associate Producer, Yixuan Wu, and together we gathered some fantastic footage for the banana documentary!
We started out in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Province, where we met up with a local researcher and expert on the Zhuang – the largest ethnic minority group in the region. In traditional Zhuang belief, every human soul begins as a flower in the garden of Miloka, the Creator/Flower Goddess. When a person dies, their soul returns to the garden to become a flower again and they will eventually be reincarnated as a human. But, things aren’t so simple for the souls of women who die in childbirth. These souls are essentially lost and can’t make it back to Miloka’s garden on their own. Banana plants offer the only route for the woman’s soul to reach the garden again, but the grieving husband must patiently tend to a banana tree until exactly the right moment….. Of course, you’ll find out the whole story, when this tale is brought to life in MONDO BANANA!
Also in Nanning, we met with “Auntie” Guo, a former pharmacist and expert on traditional Chinese medicine. Not only did she reveal some common medicinal uses for bananas, but she even revealed some handy house-hold cleaning tips using banana peels!
Then came the real kicker, our journey to Le Min town in Pubei County – the banana capital of China. Le Min is the only place in the country (and the world) where the annual Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with a banana-leaf dragon dancing ceremony. Mid-Autumn is one of the biggest and most important holidays in China, held on the night of the largest full moon of the year.
In traditional belief, Le Min is the territory of the hungry White Tiger who can only be defeated by a Green Dragon. So for centuries, to help bring prosperity to the town on this important festival, the people of Le Min have constructed enormous Green Dragons from the abundant greenery of the local banana crops. Ornate dragon heads attached with banana-leaf bodies reaching lengths of 100 meters (approx 328 feet) and lit by rows of bamboo oil lamps are made by the residents of each of the town’s major streets (East St, West St, South St, and North St).
At dusk, when the full moon rises, hundreds of townspeople lift their banana-leaf dragons, smoke from thousands of firecrackers fills the air, and the crowded streets of Le Min explode into a frenzied dance of the Green Dragons, until it’s time to make the final sacrifice…….
This was hands-down one of the most incredible events I have ever been lucky enough to observe and I’m VERY excited about my footage!! Lengthy interviews with the Le Min town historian and other “old-timers” filled us in on the details of the banana-leaf dragon dance.
On a closing note, the unexpected presence of a lanky American filmmaker apparently added to the uniqueness of this year’s event. I was constantly surrounded by at least 20 children at any given time, was interviewed by multiple local TV crews, and found myself downing an entire bowl (not a glass) of the local rice-wine in a toast with the Governor of Pubei County!!!