Nanhua Miao Village
Nanhua Miao Village, as part of Three Trees Town, is located roughly 15 kilometers from the city of Kaili, the capital of Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province. The village of Nanhua lies on the opposite side of the Bala River from the regional highway that connects Kaili to Nanhua, the Lu Rong Inter-Provincial Highway. The local road from Nanhua to the regional highway crosses the river via a wooden bridge. Most, if not all, of the edifices in this part of China, including the Miao cottages of Nanhua, are in fact of wood that is generally held together by means of wooden joinery, i.e., without recourse to either metal (nails, screws, bolts, etc.) or glue, but simply by means of interlocking joints such as mortoise and tenon ("peg and hole") joinery and other, more articulated joinery methods (think of a jigsaw puzzle).
The first thing that strikes a visitor to Nanhua Miao Village is that all of the cottages seem to be standing on stilts, at least as regards the major part of the cottage, for the second thing that strikes the visitor is that all of the cottages seem to be constructed on an incline. The third thing that is likely to strike the visitor to Nanhua Miao Village is that all of the cottages seem to be multi-storyed. There is indeed method in this seeming madness, and it demonstrates the adeptness of the Miao people in artfully adapting to the challenging conditions that they have faced since ancient times.
Since most of the land area that comprises a Miao habitat is hilly-to-mountainous, all of the level bits of land (and these are often themselves terraced mountainsides) have been reserved for agriculture (crops), leaving only inclines on which to construct housing; one side of the cottage is thus anchored to the hillside, while the other three sides are propped up with the help of stilts (certain of these stilts form an integral part of the framework of the cottage, continuing upwards for one or more storeys, not just short legs that are appended below the base of the lower storey). Moreover, the typical Miao cottage is a house, a chicken coop and a granary, all rolled into one, evidence of the practicality of the Miao people.
The first storey, or perhaps one should call it "the basement" (i.e., the earth-floored stilt area underneath the house proper, or the "wedge" between the first wooden floor, which is level, and the angled hillside below), serves as an abode for domestic animals and as storage space for animal feed (hay, etc.) as well as fertilizer. The second storey serves as the living quarters of the family as well as an ancestral temple, or shrine, while the third storey serves as a granary, as a place to hang clothes to dry, and as an indoor space for children to play in.
The practical division of the storeys of a Miao cottage is evident. For example, it would be impractical to store animal feed, which must me accessed on a daily basis, on higher storeys, while it would be equally impractical to store grain, which must be kept dry in order to avoid mildew and rot, on the first storey, near the damp earth. Beyond the mere practicality of the multi-storeyed Miao cottage is the beauty of the age-old methods employed in constructing a Miao cottage, which age-old methods constitute an art form that is handed down from generation to generation. The beauty of design and the beauty of workmanship of a Miao cottage is most evident from the cottage's interior.
Life in Nanhua Miao Village is very close-knit and communal, where each member of Miao society is taught to see him-/ herself as a member of the community. Part of the cohesiveness of Miao society derives from its social customs, such as: the staging of the Gabaifu, a kind of opera in which the Miao tribal philosophy is enacted; the performance of the Yadio song of Miaozu, which is a constant reminder to the Miao of their cultural unqiueness; the Gushe assembly, in which villagers amass to the sound of a beating drum to hear their leader speak; and the wedding ceremony, where villagers don colorful costumes and where traditional Miao song-and-dance is performed. But the cohesiveness of Miao society derives as well from more mundane communal concerns: when an old cottage is to be replaced by a new one, the new cottage is erected as a community effort; everyone pitches in, with those who lack sufficient expertise helping those who do possess expertise, in whatever capacity they can.
In addition to these somewhat more exclusive Miao customs there are a number of public Miao festivals in which visitors are more than welcome to participate. These include: the Sisters Festival, which is held on the second day of the second month of the lunar calendar; the Zongzi Festival, which is held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar; the Eating New Things Festival, which is held on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar; and the Miaozu Year, which is held on the tenth day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar.
The Miao are a handsome, charming people who live in pleasing harmony with their surroundings, adapting themselves to the necessities of life seemingly without becoming unduly burdened by that task. "Life is also to be enjoyed" might be the Miao motto.
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