Gelao Ethnic Minority

General Introduction

It is a minor ethnic groups in China  with a population of 437,997. Gelao ethnic people mainly live in Wuchuan Gelao and Miao Autonomous County and Daozhen Gelao Autonomous County in Guizhou province, with a small portion residing in Guiyang city, Liu Panshui, Zhunyi, Tongren, Bijie, Anshun and QianXina(southwest Guizhou Region),  and an even smaller part scattering around Yunnan and Guangxi provinces.

The Gelao people gather to reside in the north of Guizhou which is the slope zone for Yungui tableland transferring into Szechwan basin. The topography and physiognomy is complex and various, the annual rainfall are higher than the average rainfall of China, which results in plenty water conservancy and propagation. All this makes it fits to the development of agriculture and multi-industry.

Gelao people take priority of agriculture, plain area for paddy and other grain plants for dry land in the mountain area.


Gelao has a long history. 'Baipu' during the period from Shanzhou to Westhan, 'Pu' and 'Liao' during the period from Easthan to Northsouth dynasty had a close relation to the ancestor of Gelao. It has been named as 'Geliao', 'Liao' and 'Gelao' since Tang dynasty, and was named 'Gelao' after the establishment of the People's Republic of China.


The Gelao people have their own language belonging to Sino-Tibetan; however, they don't have their own characters, and use Chinese characters.



The life habitudes of Gelao have a lot in common with that of local Han people. The taboos of them are: do not stand or sit at the gate; strangers' visits are not allowed while giving a baby or having a funeral; after giving a baby, the mother shouldn't go out and carry water from the well within 40 days. The people of Gelao are ebullient and friendly to guests; usually they entertain friends and relatives with wine.

Marriage customs

Before the young man and lady get married, the young man's family must ask matchmaker to take the things, such as chicken and wine etc. to the lady's home. Once the gifts are received, it means the youth are allowed to get married. The people of Gelao living in Daozhen and other places need to set three meals for entertaining guests once there is a wedding. The fist one is mainly for enjoying tea with some snacks such as walnut, chestnut, peanut and sunflower seed etc.; the second one is for enjoying wine with various cold dishes, preserved dishes, sausage and salted eggs etc.; the third one is the banquet for guests to enjoy the delicious foods accompanied by the hosts. 

During the period of wedding, the friends and relatives need to put the self-made 'Papo' wine into the jar and decorate with red ribbon, then as a gift it would be placed out of the door with a reed stem, and guests could taste it at will.

Eating customs

Gelao people usually take three meals a day, congee for breakfast, cooked rice for lunch and dinner. Foods made of sticky rice are one of the Gelao people's favorite. They usually make varieties of sticky cakes in various ways, and eat them with honey, brown sugar, white sugar and gingili etc..

Gelao people like to make the fresh vegetables into the sour pickled or salted vegetables, such as the pickled sour and hot courses with green vegetables, capsicum, garlic and ginger etc. in it. And they are also likely to pickle the Chinese toon bud, which can be made into various dishes. Another favorite food of them is hot food, such as fried light capsicum etc.. In addition to that, they can make good vintage, among which 'Papo' wine is the most unique one, it is a good gift for friends made from corn, jowar and paddy etc.


Gelao people have the similar traditional festivals with Han, for instance, the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Middle-July day and the Middle-Autumn Festival. Once they are celebrating any festival, sticky rice cake is the absolutely necessary food.

The Spring Festival: It is the most ceremonious and grandest festival. During this time, every family makes a huge sticky rice cake and puts it in a dustpan for oblation for three days, then eats it. On the other festivals such as the Dragon Boat Festival etc., people may set a banquet and entertain guests with the sticky rice cake – the necessary food for each festival.

Cattle King Day: It is the folk festival only celebrated on the first day of lunar October by the Gelao people. On that day, people offer sacrifices to the Cattle King with chicken and wine etc., preying that the Cattle King may bless all farm cattle good health. The farm cattle are feed with best foods and permitted to have a rest on that day. Some people even decorate the ox horn with top sticky rice cake, and lead the cattle to take a look at himself through the water mirror for good luck.

Gelao New Year: Lunar March three is the Spring Festival of Gelao. On that day, people offer sacrifices to the God of mountain and gnome for good luck and safety. After that, people gather together for enjoying a dinner party.

The Day for Harvest: Once the time crops are to be harvested, the Gelao people celebrate it. At that time, the dressed-up people come to the field to take paddy and make them into rice the next day. On the third day, the cooked rice and beef are offered as sacrifice to the ancestors for appreciating the contribution they made as pioneers. Then people enjoy the sacrifices together.


The Gelao people believe in animism – everything has life, such as hills and rivers, winds and rains, sun and moon, stones and plants, and hold the idea that the spirit of life live forever. Their religions mainly are worship of nature, ancestors, ghosts and gods, for instance, worship of the Cattle King, God of Tree, God of Mountain etc..  Except for festivals, the people of Gelao also offer sacrifice once they encounter disasters.


The buildings for Gelao people to reside mainly are timberwork two-storied houses, which is with a structure of a hall in the middle and bedroom and chicken standing the two sides, and upstairs for barn. In the ancient time, the Gelao people lived in the pile – dwelling, which is wetproof and safe from the attacking of wild animals. Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China, there were also houses made of mud, thin bamboo strips, stones and sprays.

Taboos of Gelao

There are lots of taboos in the Gelao people's lives, and they have been strictly followed till now, the one who violates any taboos will be blamed. There are more taboos during the New Year, such as no ill-boding words, no quarreling, no breaking, no needlework, no cleaning and labbering etc.

In the area where both Gelao language and Chinese are used, people mustn't speak Chinese at any religious ceremonies; otherwise, it will invalidate the whole business. So the ceremony must be done again, and the peacebreaker of cause will be in full charge and punished.

The married lady is not allowed to go upstairs when she comes back her mother's home. Pregnant woman is forbidden to eat pork mutton and fish for avoiding getting diseases. When livestock is giving a baby, bamboo screen and gravy boar will be hung at the stall gate, ash is circled the stall to warn the pregnant woman not being close. Clothing is not allowed to be placed outdoors from Jan.1-15. There are some other taboos, such as no mowing and chopping on the third of Mar., no outdoors working on the day autumn begins, etc.

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