The topic is one that I should care about since I am losing mine. However, this isn’t about my hair it is about the minority culture we visited in the Ping’an village in Guangxi Province. There is one particular minority group in China that is renowned for its HAIR, the Yao (瑶族). Besides the fact that I am losing my hair, I am also married to Cosmetologist; so hair is an important part of my family. I contemplate whether to call them by their Chinese name or by the name they call themselves. These people call themselves Mian or Mien meaning people. The Yao Chinese meaning is more equivalent to “dog” or “savage”. With no disrespect meant to these people I will use the Chinese government’s terminology of Yao.
This people is one of the 50+ ethic groups that are officially recognized by the Chinese government. There a some unique advantages to being recognized as one of the ethnic groups in China which include the exclusion from the One-Child Policy. But, this isn’t about the political and moral concepts that are associated with the minority groups. It is about HAIR.
The Yao, about 2.7 million people in China’s 1.4 billion people, are a indeed a minority. They retreated to the highlands and mountainous regions in southern China at the end of the Miao Rebellion against the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Many of the ethnic Yao immigrated to the United States from Laos after the Laotian Civil War (1953–75). The little village we visited was originally begun over 800 years ago.
I wanted to visit this people because of the ingenuity and work ethic that is obvious by the fields that they use to harvest food. I guess that it is really a case of doing what you have to do to live. The location that they live in is pretty isolated even by today’s standards with decent roads and automobiles. I can only image how isolated it was prior to the conveniences of today. I can certainly understand the people’s desire to get advanced warning on the arrival of the Chinese considering the history between them (see this wikipedia link Miao Rebellions).
Again, I wander this post is supposed to be about hair. The Yao that we visited have a tradition related to their hair. Women cut their hair once in their lives, around 16 to 18 years old; when they are considered to be ready for adulthood and/or marriage. This culture also believes in arranged marriages where the “dowry” for the woman is paid in silver bars (reminds of the movies with Johnny Lingo but that is a story for another blog); this is supposed to be about hair. The hair that is cut is kept and will be used like a headpiece, and twisted into part of their regular hairdo.
The ladies that we observed on this visit were dressed in the local “dress”. We found the embroidery work to be intricate and very well done (the wife acquired a “used” outfit, one Halloween costume for the future is now nearly procured). I like that the outfit shows the painstaking effort they put into the outfits. The embroidery for the jacket is so detailed that it takes the owner about 3 years to complete it. It really is that detailed and it is that good.
I am amazed that I did not see a grey hair in any of the ladies heads and we saw some that looked old. We were told that they wash their hair every two to three days with “rice water”. Rice water is the water that is used to rinse the rice before it is cooked (I have done that before with rice we get here and I promise that the water is no longer clean but I guess there is something in it that helps hair). Regardless the hair is long and it is said that the people hold the Guinness World’s Record for “Longest Hair”.
As much as I want to have a full head of hair again, I don’t think that I can bring myself to washing what little I have left every two or three days with “rice water”. Maybe it is about time to embrace the saying that “Bald is Beautiful”.