Sunday, 15 February 2009

Some other minority people I came across on my recent travels

The Zhuang people are native to Guangxi province in southwest China. They are Chinas largest minority and have largely incorporated Han Chinese customs, but still retain a unique language, closely related to Thai. We stayed in a village on top of the Dragons Backbone rice terraces, high up in the mountains and slept with a family there. They were very friendly, and spoke enough Mandarin to be understood. We sat in a wooden house with no chimney and got smoked out by a fire in the middle, which was cooking a hotpot of pigs liver, potatoes and rice and drank home made rice wine.

The Dong people live mostly in northern Guangxi and southern Guizhou and have unique culture and customs. We stayed in Zhaoxing, their largest village for several days for the Chinese New Year and their own Taiguanren festival the days after. Their unique Drum towers and covered bridges are places for the locals to meet and are always full of old men, smoking and drinking. Their language sounds a little like Cantonese, but has 16 tones! Their religion is the worship of different spirit animals and buddhism, but they have no temples or organisation. The Taiguanren festival was held after Chinese New Year, and saw the locals dressing up as animals, ghosts, peasants and royalty, and parading through town singing and throwing fireworks around.

The Miao people can be found all over southern China and Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, where they are known as the Hmong. They have even emigrated in large numbers to America and France. They were traditionally very rebellious to the Han Chinese, which led to their oppression. They have many different sub groups, such as the Flower Miao, Red Miao, Black Miao, Long Horn Miao etc. We stayed in a village called Basha, where the locals cling to ancient traditions, such as wearing traditional clothes, and the men still carry huge daggers or swords and shave their head, leaving just a topknot in the middle. In fact, the people in the village were all crazy, it seemed like the whole village was drunk, children included. They often sang, danced and were really rowdy, all night long. I heard they are some of the biggest drinkers in China!

The Bai people inhabit the foothills and valleys in and around Dali, in northwestern Yunnan province. They were traditionally rebellious and up until the time of Kublai Khan, had their own kingdom. They are believed to descend from the inhabitants from the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but how they came to China, I dont know. They are well known for the artwork on the sides of their building, which are otherwise white washed. Old women in traditional clothes are often found selling hash to tourists in the streets of old Dali, although they dont smoke it themselves, just eat the seeds.

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