by Jim Goodman
Around three million people in southwest China identify themselves as members of the Buyi minority nationality, the tenth largest non-Han ethnic group in the country. Most of the Buyi (sometimes spelt Bouyei or Buyei) live in the southern half of Guizhou province, where they are considered the aboriginal people of the province, supposedly resident there since the Stone Age. They are descendants of the ancient Yue people from southeast China, related to the Zhuang and Dai and, like them, speak a language of the Tai-Kedai linguistic group, but without a written form. (The government in the 1950s introduced a system based on Latin letters, but it did not catch on among the people.)
|Buyi woman, Luoping County, Yunnan
The one exception was the sub-group that moved over the southwest border into Yunnan around a thousand years ago; in fact, just barely over the border, in southeast Luoping County, near the junction of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guizhou. Thus the Buyi became one of Yunnan’s 25 minority nationalities. With a population of around 55,000 they rank 16th in the province’s roster of ethnic minorities. Having found in the valleys of the Duoyi and Nanpang Rivers an environment similar to that they left behind, and a beautiful one as well, they settled in permanently and did not make any further moves westward.
|Buyi villagers on the Duoyi River
They live in wide stone and wood houses, usually two stories, with tiled roofs and sometimes tigers or dragons painted on the upper exterior wall or window shutters. Every house is likely to have a loom, of the four-shaft, treadle-operated, bench type, like that used by the Dai and Zhuang, and all the other ingredients used in textile production. Girls start learning from the age of seven how to fluff the raw cotton, use spinning wheels, dye vats, looms and embroidery frames. Much of a girl's youth will be spent "saving up for the dowry," which basically means weaving cloth and making shoes.
Female relatives must assist in this task, for between 20 and 100 sets of clothes must be made and a dozen pairs of shoes. Buyi footwear has upturned tips and embroidery on the upper parts around
|young Buyi women in the market
There will be some variation in the women’s style. Older women might prefer gray or pale violet as the jacket color. Younger women add more color. But the basic cut, shape and components of the clothing will be the same. Women of all ages still overwhelmingly prefer their ethnic style, most evident in the weekly market days in Duoyi village, as most stalls are run by women and most customers are women. A sprinkling of Miao also turn up, but for the local Buyi market day is as much of a social event as a commercial one. Rafting on the river is as popular as ambling around the market area, especially with groups of youth.
|market day in Duoyi village
|Rafting on the river is popular on market days.
House construction involves both sexes, as it is a collective effort usually undertaken at the beginning of the dry season. This could involve upwards of forty people. Men lead ponies laden with timber, bamboo or loads of stone to the construction site, where laborers are already busy laying the foundation. Off to one side a few women prepare meals for the work crew and, of course, when the house is finally completed the owners throw a feast for everyone who helped.
|House construction is a collective effort.
|drying chopsticks in the village square
|traditional waterwheel on the Duoyi River
|waterfall on the Duoy i River
|19th century waterwheel
This is an ideal location for hiking. Mountains all around provide a scenic backdrop, yet no path is particularly steep or strenuous. The people are relatively prosperous, friendly,
|recreation of a Han Dynasty waterwheel
* * *