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Falcon hunting tradition in Lijiang

By : InKunming | Published: 2013-11-15

A man commands a falcon to hunt a pheasant in Lijiang, Yunnan Province. (Photo/ Yang Fan)

What has been fascinating for Naxi men? What has made them so obsessed that they ignore the return after investment? The answer is falconry.

Naxi ethnic group is the descendants of ancient Qiang people who migrated far from Northwestern China to Lijiang. The customs of falconry were also brought to the plateau and have been carried on for hundreds of years consistently. Today, capturing eagles are flourishing in the city and the number of eagle fanciers exceeds one thousand.

Falconry is costly, and a fine eagle is worth of a cattle. Plus the costs of training and feeding, it is definitely a big expense to raise a market-value eagle.

Li Shi, a veteran falconer in Lijiang, said Dayan Old Town is a main market for the falconry culture since long ago. Merchant princes in the 1930s and 1940s were generous enough to buy good eagles every year and delegate to someone else for raising and training.

An eagle, with good appearance, can be sold at a price of 5,500 yuan, if it is less than one year old. Besides, it is time-and-energy-taking to train an eyas. Eagles are fed with beef, about 0.7 to 0.8 kilogram a day, which is money-consuming.

How to identify a good falcon?

The best falcon is female yet born in that very year, and the male eagle born in the same year is in the second place. A female eagle looks bigger than a male one, and is qualified with stronger hunting skills. The younger eagles are more priced than senior ones as senior eagles are not docile enough.

It is the feather and the eye that tells the born year of an eagle. The older it is, the whiter its abdominal features and the blusher the eyes are.

The key to tame an eagle is to make it acquainted with the trainer, which may help fade its natural wildness. Several weeks later, it may be able to eat on the palm of a trainer and cooperate with his command. "The main secret is to control it with food."said Yang. Docile enough, it can be freed to sky to check its abilities. However, some untamed eagles may fly away once they are released.

A pheasant was captured. (Photo/ Yang Fan)

Eagle hunters' story

Yang Yongzhong, 45 years old, has played with the eagles since he was 17 years old. He said once a man falls in love with eagles, he can never give up.

As an experienced eagle hunter in Lijiang, Yang has represented Lijiang to participate in a global falconry conference held in Britain. Both his father and grandfathers were crazy for eagles.

"Young people were not encouraged to spend time on eagles, or they would be regarded as idlers. When I was in a relationship with my wife, her mother was reluctant to our marriage. Though I finally married my wife, I was not accepted by her mother even during her last days. My mother-in-law never talked with me before." said Yang.

Yang trains goshawks only, since they are born hunters with fast flying abilities and can capture animals weighing 4 times of itself. The eyesight of an eagle is 8 times of human beings’, and can accurately locate a mouse from the sky. Its sharp spikes can easily pierce human’s palms. People may feel the sense of conquest once tamed a bird of prey.

A man checks an eagle in a market of Lijiang, Yunnan. (Photo/ Yang Fan)

Sang Yuesheng's eagle hunting legend

Li Shisheng was born in an eagle hunting family. Li’s grandfather Sang Yuesheng was a well-known eagle player. Li shows a photo of Sang who had a long braid and sat on a chair with a hunting dog aside. On his left branch stood an eagle.

This is the typical figure of an eagle player.

Li said that it was taken by Locke, an explorer and editor in National Geographic Magazine USA.

Sang has raised other family members’ interests in eagle training.

1903, Sang had a legendary story. He traveled to Thailand with his eagle and dog. Generally speaking, they could return within five days for a common trip, however he did not show in the regular period. He was believed dead and was consecrated by his family. To people’s surprise, he came back two years later.

Having observed the eagles on the mountain for a long term, Sang took the morphological features of eagles into heart. He draw a book including 280 eagles at different occasions and in different shapes, sizes and forms.

Nick, vice president of British Eagle Hunting Association expressed his surprise at the drawing when he visited Lijiang a few years ago.

The eagle capture tradition is inconsistent with the law of animal protection.

"The eagle hunting is a tradition of Naxi ethnic group on one side. On the other side, the human beings’ heritage is required to be protected."

An association to protect the eagle hunting culture was established in October 2012. It has more than 2o0 members now. The association targets the preservation of the custom. It is also trying to found an institute for applying for the intangible heritage, since falconry in Nairobi has been recognised as part of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO bid on November 16, 2010. In 2011, the Man ethnic falconry tradition was also listed in China’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Wang Weisheng, an eagle fancier, puts up a net to capture an eagle when it swoops for a bait. (Photo/ Yang Fan)

Men put up a tent as they will live on the mountain for a long time in autumn to catch an eagle. (Photo/ Yang Fan)

A bait near the net (Photo/ Yang Fan)

(Editors:Lynn, Tracy)

Click here to view Chinese report.

 

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