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Cultural Heritage / Trip Ideas

The last tribe of gunners in China

By Minjun Xu

September 8

In mountains deep in southwestern China, every man in the village of Basha carries a gun.

In mountains deep in southwestern China, every man in the village of Basha carries a gun.

At the foothill of a mountain 7km away from Congjiang, Guizhou, a Miao tribe called Basha preserve their centuries-old customs. The village is a mysterious place to explore.

Legend says the Basha tribe are descendants of Chiyou (蚩尤), a sagacious tribal leader of the ancient Nine Li tribe (九黎) who fought against the Yellow Emperor during the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors era (三皇五帝). Like their ancestor, these Miao people revere force and for a long time relied on guns to hunt for food in nearby forests. Although the villagers no longer hunt, they are given special permission to own guns within the mountains they inhabit.

Welcome ceremony [Image Credit: news.cn]
Welcome ceremony [Image Credit: news.cn]
Before visitors step into the their village, a group of Basha men wearing silver jewelry play a piece of local music with Sheng (笙), an old Chinese reed instrument. Girls offer visitors sweet rice wine served in buffalo horns. Don’t ever refuse the wine — it is your passport to Basha.

Basha men firing riffles into the air [Image Credit: CFP]
Basha men firing riffles into the air [Image Credit: CFP]
After the performance, the men stand in line at the entrance and fire their long rifles into the air three times.

Hair shaved by reaphook [Image Credit: CFP]
Hair shaved by reaphook [Image Credit: CFP]
Different from many other Miao groups, people in the Basha tribe still wear traditional clothing and unique hairstyles, which date back to the Qing dynasty. The haircut rite, also known as the coming-of-age shaving ceremony, is perhaps the most noticeable custom in the village. During the ceremony, the tribe leader shaves off all of a boy’s hair with a reaphook, except for the central part on top which is then coiled in a bun, indicating adulthood. It’s said this haircut, a symbol of masculinity, is the oldest male hairstyle still worn in China.

Traditional dance [Image Credit: CFP]
Traditional dance [Image Credit: CFP]
They also have a unique partying custom. Men hug the women they like, and the woman who receives the most hugs is considered the most charming in the village.

[Image Credit: CFP]
[Image Credit: CFP]
In Miao language, “Basha” means a place where trees flourish, and villagers worship trees to pay respect to ancestors and their tribal history. No one dares to cut branch off of the ancient trees, even dead ones.

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