Xiding pronounced 'Shiding', is a small town nestled in the mountains of Xishuangbanna Prefecture of Yunnan and is home to a population of the Hani or Aini ethnic minority group who are one of the 56 ethnic groups offically recognised by the 'Peoples Republic of China'. China is a multi-ethnic society dominated by the Han Chinese ethnic group who make up 91.6% of China's 1.3 billion population. The other 8.4% consists of the other 55 ethnic groups of which the Hani populace equates to about 1.4 million.
Women from the Hani Ethnic Minority Group
Now what's so interesting about Xiding you might wonder, well, it's an extremely interesting and fascinating place at least once every week when the market comes to town. Every thursday without fail from the crack of dawn until lunch there is a colourful and vibrant market that buzzes with authentic tribal culture, not something that is being acted out for tourists, something that has been staged for paying guests, although a few foreigners do get off the beaten track and manage to reach this little corner of Xishuangbanna and those that do never forget it.
The Thursday market is said to be the liveliest and most authentic of all the markets in the vicinity and who am I to argue. It certainly has a vibrance of it's own, the hustle and bustle of the vividly dressed ethnic crowd, the smells and aromas from the food stalls, the sights of fresh produce and 'other worldly' characters, the sounds of laughter amongst friends and sounds of friendly haggling or bargaining over goods.
It's not only a time for trade, buying and selling items but also a time to catch up with old acquaintances, a time for local gossip, stories to be told and secrets to be heard but not repeated. There is an energy about the place, a buzz that can't be felt in western or developed nations shopping malls or outdoor markets. It is in all fairness a real tribal gathering, not like Glastonbury or the Reading Rock Festival a contemporary tribal gathering, its more down to earth and very very genuine with a vibe unto its own.
When I visited Xiding there was only myself and a guy from Iceland (regarding foreigners) mingling amongst the crowd. We were unhindered in our wanderings, the people were so friendly and hospitable to us when we were noticed that is. Contrary to what one would imagine we did'nt 'stick out like sore thumbs' amongst such a diverse crowd, in fact it felt more like being somewhat invisible as the locals were too busy getting on with their own thing, too engrossed in the event so to speak. It was a good feeling to be immersed in such a spectacle, to be part of such an extravaganza even. The bazaar itself was predominantly consisting of Hani tribes people although there was also 'The Bulang' who dress in black attire and a smattering of the colourful 'Dai peoples' and Han Chinese.
Bulang Woman Dai Woman
The Hani or Aini Peoples are now wearing as can be seen in the pictures I have posted a general tribal costume which is more modern and updated maybe, simple and I guess easier to don than it's old counterpart which is far more beautiful and extravagant. The modern headdress or headscarf is a simple red,white and black checked affair, but look closely and one can still see the tell tale and distinctive signs of the Hani, the multi coloured beads hanging around their necks. Some just wear a shirt whereas others keep to the typically long blue apron and most still wear the blue leggings too.The typical headdress covered in silver, beads and old coins is what could nowadays be considered as 'sunday best'.
Traditional Hani Woman Traditional Hani Headdress
Something new I did notice at Xiding market was the way a lot of the minorities chose to carry their goods. Unlike other markets where indigenuos peoples bare the heavy burden of their traditional backpack (a bamboo basket) solely on their foreheads via a thick strap here they have help shouldering the burden with what can only be described as a Yoke or as the dictionary describes it "a frame fitted to a person's shoulders to carry a load in two equal portions". Quite unusual but it does look like it makes life that bit easier. Technology hey, I don't know!
Tribal With Yoke Tribal Without Yoke
Market day typically starts off with a noodle soup breakfast for the early starters, for the late arrivals the noodle stalls continue to sell their culinary dish along with (for the males of course) alcoholic beverage, 50% rice wine, or at least that's what I was told and it certainly felt like it. Half way through the morning I took a pew at a noodle soup stall and sat beside a charming little Hani guy who with a typical tribal welcoming bought us a few shots, how could I not repay the debt? And so it went on until we were both quite inebriated to say the least, what a great way to start the day....
Noodle Soup Breakfast
To reach Xiding one should at the latest be there the day before the market (Wednesday) and overnight at the digs where the bus pulls in. For less than a British Pound one can get a bed in a dorm room that consists of four beds. I was lucky enough to have the whole thing to myself for no extra charge. communal toilet and shower is out the back.
The reason for arriving the day before is because the market starts extremely early and if travelling by bus on the same day you would'nt make it there in time to catch the 'gathering' as there are only two buses a day that leave Menghai for Xiding.
The afternoon bus that leaves Menghai stays at Xiding overnight and goes back down to Menghai about 1pm the following day. If you are staying in Jinghong City the capital of Xishuangbanna prefecture then it's less than an hours journey to Menghai where you have to change buses or minibuses and then its about an hour and half up the windy mountain road to Xiding. Now last but not least lets big it up for those friendly little pigs.
A walk around Xiding can be quite nice with some great look out points where one can see all the way down to the plains. Be aware of the resident dogs though. I ended up having to carry a stick around with me to fend off the wild beasts who, it seems, were guarding each and every household. I am sure they would of had me if I did'nt look all threatening like waving my stick at them (whilst shaking inside), once your past a houeshold though they'll be nipping at your heels for a short time then they'll retreat back to their quarters, then you have the next to deal with. I much prefer the placid little pigs rather than running the gauntlet of the wild dogs!
For anybody who is interested in Tribal Peoples of Asia and Asian Markets check out this link to my Website, it will take you directly to the Tribal Markets Gallery. People Portraits are'nt too bad either.
Well that's all for Part 2 of Tribal Yunnan.
Will be posting Part 3 soon.......
Labels: Asia, Bulang, China, Dai, Ethnic Minorities, Hani, Photography, Travel Photography, Tribals, Xiding, Yunnan