by Jim Goodman
Entering from Yuanyang County, after 15
km the traveler comes to Luchun city, the county capital, lying on a long,
high, narrow, east-west ridge. Its
modern buildings, largely whitewashed cement, line the ridge, with Hani
villages and rice terraces immediately below on each side. The bus station, central market and public
park are in a four-block stretch in the city center. From the park and from glimpses between the
buildings are good views of the terraces and mountain scenery.
The main Hani sub-group call themselves Awo Hani. Females of all ages still prefer their traditional clothing, consisting of a very Chinese-style, long-sleeved jacket over trousers and a round decorated turban. Most jackets fasten on the right side, with a few buttoned down the front. The style is relatively uniform, but they could be any color. Some prefer black or dark blue, and not just the older women. Others choose a variety of soft pastel colors, often patterned, no two alike. The trousers are usually plain or else black with a blue stripe around the shins.
Every horse and rat day in the 12-day
animal cycle Luchun stages its market day.
Villagers swarm into the city bearing a variety of products to sell or
empty pack-baskets to fill with goods to take home. They set up stalls to offer rice, various
vegetables, spices, forest goods, medicinal herbs, baby frogs caught in the
terraces, honeycombs, edible insects or clothing. Some may even just stand somewhere on the
street holding a single item, like a cooked bird or a newly made traditional
Market day also attracts Hani from other
parts of the county, mostly the south, like Sanmeng and areas closer to the
Vietnam border. Some groups from the far
south wear fancier turbans with decorative flaps and tassels and a jacket festooned
with several triangles of silver studs. The
crowd may also include a sprinkling of other minority nationalities in the
county, like Yi, Dai and Yao.
The county’s indigenous Yi belong to
another sub-group from four villages near Niukong, 37 km west of Luchun. The road winds down from the high ridge and
runs along the Niukong River, passing many Hani villages, mostly on the south
side, with mud-brick houses and thatched or more often tiled roofs—the typical
rural Yunnan style, though not enclosed by compound walls. After passing a few bamboo bridges the road
reaches Niukong town beside the river.
Market day here takes place a day before Luchun, on snake and pig days,
drawing local Yi as well as a few Hani sub-groups.
West of Niukong the road rises into the
hills and away from the river to a turnoff about 15 km later that runs south
for 65 km to Qimaba, a large Dai settlement of over 200 houses almost exactly
in the center of the county. Hani
villages sprinkle the hills in the beginning, but soon the environment is
heavily forested until Qimaba, which lies on a gentle slope above its terraces.
Irrigated by streams that also run through the residential area, reinforced by
stone walls on their sides, the terraces stretch out like a fan in front of the
village and end at the cliffs above the Chama River.
Most of the women prefer their
traditional outfits: blue or black
tubular skirt, side-fastened, long-sleeved top with embroidered front, hems and
cuffs and sometimes the entire back of the jacket. They wear these basic components all day,
even when working in the fields. For
social occasions or going to the market they may also wear a tall, elaborate
head piece lined with coins and silver studs above the brim, with a long black flap
hanging down the back.
The turn-off south to Pinghe is just
before entering Luchun County from the east.
The road skirts the eastern side of the county for 47 km to Pinghe,
overlooking valleys cut by tributary streams of the Mengman River. This is the most heavily populated part of
Luchun County and Hani villages lie all along the slopes, with their
water-filled terraces climbing up to cover over 80% of the hills flanking the
Compared to the eastern and northern
sectors of Luchun County, the rest of it is rather sparsely settled and very
forested. Not many roads link the
isolated villages with main thoroughfares.
After the Qimaba turnoff the main highway continues to Dashuigou, a
nondescript town itself, but interesting for the different sub-groups of
Hani. The women of one dress in similar
style as Hani around Luchun, but with a fancier head-covering, knee-length
trousers and colored cloth wrappers around the calves. Another group wears long jackets and very
tall black cloth headdresses with a rectangular top, along with big round
silver earrings. Both sub-groups are
spillovers from Mojiang County to the west.
The Hani language is a member of the Yi branch of the Tibeto-Burman linguistic family. It is related to Yi, Lahu and Lisu, and like them has several dialects. The basic grammar and syntax for all Tibeto-Burman languages is the same, with a subject-object-verb word order. When the Chinese government decided to devise writing systems for those languages without them, the dialect spoken in Dazhai, just beyond the western outskirts of Luchun city, became the standard for the Hani language and the one used to make a Hani-English dictionary. It is the one spoken over most of Luchun County, as well as, with a few vocabulary differences, Jinping, Yuanyang, Honghe, Hekou and northwest Vietnam.
Revivalism has also meant an active role
once again for the Hani ritual specialist.
The Hani are animist and employ the specialist to perform the proper
traditional rites to appease potentially troublesome spirits, protect the
fields and the people’s health, and be able to read portents in the liver of
the sacrificial animal.
Some villages have the traditional gates
at the main entrance. Consisting of a
wooden beam aid across two upright poles, it has carved swords or other
warning symbols to keep evil spirits from visiting. When villagers sicken and no medicine seems
to work they will call on a shaman to go into a trance to find out what the
afflicting spirit deman
For the Lunar New Year villages erect
swings and teeter boards for the youth to enjoy. The swing consists of four long tree limbs
lashed upright together with a pair of ropes suspended from the top and joined
by a plank at the bottom. The teeter
board is a long beam inserted into hole in a tree stump. A rider sits on each side, steering the board
both up and down and around in a circle.
For adults, the main activity is family visits and banquets. And the Hani women will put on their fanciest traditional jacket and turban and whatever jewelry they have. New Year is always a time of hope and it’s better to dress in your finest to welcome it.
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For more on Hani culture, see my e-book The Terrace Builders