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Bailuo tribe, a mysterious tribe in SE Yunnan

By : InKunming | Published: 2013-May-20

Xinzhai is a Bailuo ethnic village seldom known to visitors, because it is hidden in the backwaters of Malipo County, Wenshan Miao and Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture in the southeast of Yunnan.

All the villagers are Bailuo ethnic members, leading an exotic life different from other branches of the Yi. During the May Day Holiday of 2006, I took a spontaneous photo tour with two Western photographers to the village that has left many memories behind. The tour was a surprise and we just decided to go there when all of us were bewildered by “where to go” because we had really visited many ethnic villages.

This hamlet nestles in lush woods, and many very old trees are growing around it. All the residences there are the style called "gan lan shi" (houses on stilts) in the Chinese architectural jargon.

Most parts of our somewhat adventurous journey to Xinzhai Town were managed on a bumpy road. But luckily the Xinzhai Village was only 30 minutes of drive from the town. When we arrived, the village chief was very happy because Zhao Wenlu, the chief of the culture office of Xinzhai Town, had telephoned him, telling him some special guests would visit the village.

The chief let us in a big old house, showed us around, gave many details about his village, and summoned some ladies and kids to dress up for pictures. Houses there were very unique, old and impressive with big pillars; each house was a two-storeyed building, with the ground floor for livestock and farming tools, and the upper for people to live on.

It is hard to expound when the village was first built. But Mr Zhao told us that the Bailuo people only had the spoken language so when their ancestors settled in this area remained mysterious, and what they had known was just that their ancestors moved from Kunlun mountainous region because of natural disasters.

When the dressed-up ladies showed up, the chief did a lot of cooperative efforts in our favour, because we had gotten a tight agenda and told him beforehand what we intended to do. Several cameras got to work on a fairground at the centre of the village. In on sense, I found nearly all the villagers were out there, old grandpas, grannies, kids, but all friendly……observing the two lao wai (foreigners) and me. Foreign tourists always told me before: “Local people are more interested in us than we do when we are visiting a place”. It is absolutely true.

We liked their costumes very much, and were told all the clothes and embroideries were made by hand on their own. For little girls, the scarf-like headwears are very cute. It is said that for an outfit of a girl, the parents have to ask a craftsman to design and make silvery ornaments which include necklaces, buttons, bracelets and other decorations. "Girls traditionally begin to learn embroidering from their mothers at a young age," Mr Zhao said. "The more beautiful and exquisite the costume or embroidery is, the higher praise a girl will receive. Needling and embroidering is a criterion for judging girls inside the tribe."

The dietary tradition

The Bailuo people have their own unique ethnic customs. Like the Zhuang and Buyi ethnic people in Wenshan and Qujing, they prepare dyed rice (coloured rice) on the occasion of festivals. But the colour of the rice depends on what festival is spent; for example, multi-coloured or blue rice for the Spring Festival, while yellow for the "buckwheat festival" (in May or lunar April). And when the family has guests, women do not join men on the same table.

Tips

(1)-Malipo county seat-120km-Xinzhai Township-8 km-Xinzhai Village;

(2)-Another similar but larger Bailuo ethnic village is in Donggan Town.

Captions:

The traditional dance of the Bailuos.

The stilted house of the Bailuos.

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