lucky enough to witness the whole process of making a reed pipe. Four steps are required – three of which involve assembling the instrument’s parts, with the fourth being pitch tuning. All are hand made, and we were told that the current master was an 18th-generation pipe maker. Instruments made in this village have been sold all across Guizhou Province as well as in the countries in Southeast Asia, America and Europe.
One trait the Miao people seem to share is unabashed optimism. The proof is in the farmers’ paintings. In Shiqing Village, we saw a painting by farmer Yang Zhenxing, now in his 50s. It portrays a young couple riding on a cow with oversized horns. Phoenixes, magpies, butterflies and bats symbolizing good fortune flutter in the sky above the cow. A phoenix is seen drinking the cow’s fresh milk from a nearby pail, in which fish can be spotted swimming. Yang has used bright and vibrant colors to highlight the happy, harmonious mood of the painting, which in turn cogently embodies the atmosphere of the Miao villages we visited.
Gejia and Xiajia
Matang Gejia Village is a mere 20 kilometers from Kaili City, but the cultural distance between the two locales is far greater than this short distance suggests. The Gejia people have their own language, ethnic customs and culture. It is still a pending question for ethnologists if they constitute another ethnic group in addition to the existing 56 in China.
Gejia women’s traditional costumes differ considerably from those of Miao. Young girls wear hats with red tassels, and married women wear corolla kerchiefs, or huaguanpa. Women who have given birth wear headdresses featuring the moon, while women yet to have children sport bonnets displaying a sun. All women wear pleated short skirts with embroidered puttees. A red arrow and bow pattern can be found on men’s and women’s headdresses as well as on the back sections of their clothes. This represents the continued worship and immortal memory of their ancestor. Gejia believe they are the descendents of Houyi, a mythical marksman who shot down nine suns, leaving only the present one. His actions saved the world’s people from overheating and the drying up of all fresh water.
One cannot help but notice the warrior-type costumes worn among the Gejia. Costumes of both men and women display armor. Part of this tradition stems from a fable about a sister who fought to save her injured brother and saved his life. The brother gave her part of his armor as a gift of thanks.
Xijia Shilong Village is a stone’s throw from Matang Gejia Village. It boasts ten exquisite naturally formed stones: tiger stone, rocking stone, bowl rack stone, dragon mouth stone, buffalo stone, baby-carrying stone, sisters stone, frog stone and bull horn stone. They are beautiful and truly resemble their creatively construed names.
We found ourselves absorbed in the tranquility of Xijia Shilong Village, which is encircled by foliaged mountains on all sides. The lotus pond at its entrance gate resembles dark jade and reminded us of a song about the poetic image of a moonlit lotus pond. On entering the village, a blossoming pear tree welcomed us.
A village cadre told me about the origin of the inhabitants of Xijia. He was quite sure they were descendents of the Western Xia Regime (1038-1227). These descendents were forced to settle in Jiangxi Province in the Song Dynasty and to Guizhou Province during the Ming. The population of these descendents in Qiandongnan now numbers 3,500. Whenever there are big events they all gather together and continue to share stories of their common history. Nowadays, the Xijia women don triangular handkerchiefs as headgear and men wear a kind of kilt to commemorate the arduous migration the former nomads made to their current hometown. They are immensely proud of their history.
The people of Xijia used to use one and only one bucket to carry water on their backs. This practice also finds its genesis in legend. In the Ming Dynasty, a local Xijia man Luo Saijun was promoted to work for the Ming royal palace as a minister. He performed his duties well and was envied by other officials. One day, a foreign envoy offered a pair of golden buckets as tribute to the emperor, and a particularly envious official broke one on purpose and blamed it on Luo Saijun. The emperor was furious with Luo, but Luo riposted that the two buckets were actually sent as a nefarious symbol of the envoy’s desire to separate the country into halves – Luo broke one bucket to secure the lasting unity of the country (The pronunciation of “one bucket” (yitong) in Chinese means the unity of the country.) The emperor was satisfied with this explanation and Luo evaded harsh punishment. Since then, Xijia people have only ever used one bucket to carry water. This custom has been passed down to the present day.
Walking out of Xijia village, I heard myself humming the lyrics of a well-known tune: “I am a coy fish in your lotus pond; I await the brilliant white moonlight with you.”
Legend surrounds Kaili, but surely the most charming feature of this alluring land is the people themselves.