Friday, September 06, 2013

Random photo: Yi woman, Wujiao

[From the account of my first trip to Muli:]
These were the ‘Lesser’ Cool Mountains (Liang Shan) and the Yi (or ‘Lolo’ as Rock knew them) were a wild, poor people who tilled a barren yellow soil.
“They are very backward. They do not wash,” the Han Chinese in Lijiang had said about them.
Even the Naxi compared themselves favourably with the Yi. “We Nakhi are the best educated of China’s minorities. Unlike some minorities we have a strong culture,” they said, referring to the Yi.
In the countryside around towns such like Ninglang, the Yi were literally dirt poor. Their dwellings had changed little since Rock wrote of them: “The houses of these primitive people are of rough pine hoards, tied together with cane, and the roofs weighted down with rocks.”
I got a chance to see a few Yi women at close quarters when some of them squeezed their way onto our bus. They smelled of the farmyard, and had freckled, weather-beaten faces and wore grubby, unwashed traditional dress, little changed since Rock described them:
“The Lolo women wear skirts decorated with old fashioned flounces, reaching almost to the ground, and short jackets. Hats, with broad, flopping brims, resembling the heads of antediluvian ichthyosaurs, usually cover their wild unkempt heads.”
The Yi women I encountered looked almost European - they had round eyes, aquiline noses and they spoke to each other in weird high-pitched, coo-ing voices. They were the some of poorest people I saw in China. And it was easy to believe that until forty years ago, they had been a slave society, despised by the Chinese and bestowed with the derogatory name ‘Lolo’, (‘wog’).
The Yi were divided into a noble ‘black’ Yi branch and the low caste ‘white’ Yi, most of whom were effectively serfs. And the Yi in this area had originally been outcasts from the main Yi area north of Lijiang, and thus were doubly wretched. Liberation had brought them freedom from slavery, but little else in the way of development.

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