China's first ecological museum was built recently in Longga Village of Suoga Township in Guizhou Province's Liuzhi Special Administrative Prefecture to protect the unique culture of the Changjiao Miao people, a branch of the Miao ethnic group.
The Changjiao Miao got their name from their special custom of using horns as head ornaments (changjiao means "long horns").
Changjiao Miao people live in the mountains 2,000 meters above sea level in 12 villages located close to each other with a total population of 4,000. One of the 12 is Longga, the museum's site. The village also has the people's only link with the outside world--a 5-kilometer highway built in 1994.
In hopes of glimpsing the life-style of the Changjiao Miao people, we made a special trip to Longga recently. We arrived there after a long journey, and we felt as if we were entering a world of extreme serenity and grace. The first scene that caught our eyes were the beautifully dressed local women. Their unique posture, the beautiful batik dresses and the long, white ox horns they wear on their heads aroused our curiosity.
The girls invited us to their homes with great hospitality and proudly showed us the batik cloth they make by themselves. Making batik cloth is a skill every Changjiao Miao woman has to learn in childhood. We saw them using a knife to draw on a piece of wax patterns white cloth and then dyeing it in a big pot. A piece of batik cloth was then ready for cutting and sewing into beautiful dresses. Most Changjiao Miao women have never received any schooling, but the patterns they draw are fine and show exquisite craftsmanship.
On ordinary day, the women simply wrap their hair behind their head around a sharp-ended wooden board. They wear long horns only on holidays and during festivals, together with the decorative hair bun made of linen, wool and hair three meters long and weighing 2 kilograms. They first fix the horns with their real hair and then wrap the "decorative hair" around a wooden frame into the shape of a horizontal "8" and tie it to the horns with a piece of white cord. The heavy ornament places extra strain on their neck and waist, leading to their neck and waist, leading to their typical walking posture.
There's a legend about the origin of the horn ornament. It states that their ancestors used to be frequently attacked by other tribes, who were repulsed time after time thanks to a precious broom owned by the old tribal chief. Unfortunately, the precious broom was later stolen by the enemy and the tribal chief died in the ensuing battle while the rest of the tribe escaped into the deep mountains. Later the people began to tie crossbows upside-down in their long hair to pray for peace. Since the ends of the crossbow stuck up and very much resembled two horns growing out of the head, the people eventually got their name. Changjiao Miao men used to wear horns in the past, but today they are a decoration worn only by women.
Due to poor access, the Changjiao Miao had little connection with the outside world and could preserve their unique communitarian culture. They exercise a primitive form of democracy and they have unique customs and rituals.
In terms of love and marriage, Changjiao Miao youth have great freedom. The "flower dancing" festival between the fourth and fourteenth day of the first lunar month is a time for youngsters to look for their life partners. During the festival, girls from a village come in groups to an open ground, dancing and singing in antiphonal style with boys from other villages. When a boy and a girl are attracted to each other, they will present gifts signifying they are engaged.
From then on they will meet every market day and begin "moon night dating", a community tradition by which two lovers meet in the bamboo forest under the full moon to sing in antiphonal style and then go together to the girl's home. The boy won't leave until the next morning. But although there is absolute freedom in love affairs, when it comes to marriage it will be big headache--endless bargaining between the two families, one proposal after another, and one refusal after another, until the girl's family is satisfied with the betrothal gifts or until the boy's family signals the two youngsters to elope.
Divorce, however, is much easier. If no longer in love, the couple need only to give notice to the tribal seniors and, if the latter agree, they become divorced and each is free to find a new marriage partner.
The opening of the new highway has enabled Longga to attract quite a lot of visitors in recent years. The unique culture of the Changjiao Miao community fascinates people from outside. Meanwhile, the strangers have brought completely different culture to the community. With the increasing numbers of visitors, conflict between traditional and modern civilization seems inevitable.