|The Dai of Yunnan in 1917, as seen by Roy Chapman Andrews in "Camps and Trails in China"|
base of the mountains a Shan (2) village nestled into the grass. The bamboo
houses, sheltered by trees and bushes, were roofed in the shape of an
overturned boat with thatch and the single street was wide and clean.
Could this really be China? Verily, it was a different China from that
we had seen before! It might be Burma, India, Java, but never China!
door of a tiny house sat a woman spinning. A real Priscilla, somewhat
strange in dress to be sure and with a mouth streaked with betel nut,
but Priscilla just the same. And in his proper place beside her stood
John Alden. A pair of loose, baggy trousers, hitched far up over one leg
to show the intricate tattoo designs beneath, a short coat, and a white
turban completed John's attire, but he grasped a gun almost as ancient
in design as that of his Pilgrim fathers. Priscilla kept her eyes upon
the spinning wheel, but John's gaze could by no stretch of imagination
be called ardent even before we appeared around a corner of the house
and the pretty picture resolved into its rightful components--a surprised,
but not unlovely Shan girl and a well-built, yellow-skinned native who
stared with wide brown eyes and open mouth at what must have seemed to
him the fancy of a disordered brain.
his village, filled with immemorial peace and quiet, where every day was
exactly like the day before, had suddenly ridden two big men with white
skins and blue eyes, and a little one with lots of hair beneath a broad
sun helmet. And almost immediately the little one had jumped from the
horse and pointed a black box with a shiny front at him and his Priscilla.
At once, but without loss of dignity, Priscilla vanished into the house,
but John Alden stood his ground, for a beautiful new tin can had been
thrust into his hand and before he had really discovered what it was the
little person had smiled at him and turned her attention to the charming
street of his village. There the great water buffalos lazily chewed their
cuds standing guard over the tiny brown-skinned natives who played trustingly
with the calves almost beneath their feet.
our invasion of the first Shan village we had ever seen, and regretfully
we rode away across the plain between the walls of waving grass toward
the Nam-ting River. Two canoes, each dug out of a single log, and tightly
bound together, formed the ferry, but the packs were soon across the muddy
stream and the mules were made to swim to the other bank. Shortly after
leaving the ferry we emerged from the vast stretches of rank grass on
to the open rice paddys which stretched away in a gently undulating plain
from the river to the mountains. Strangely enough we saw no ducks or geese,
but three great flocks of cranes (probably Grus communis) rose from the
fields and wheeled in ever-widening spirals above our heads until they
were lost in the blue depths of the sky.
the distance we saw a wooded knoll with a few wisps of smoke curling above
its summit, but not until we were well-nigh there did we realize that
its beautiful trees sheltered the thatched roofs of Meng-ting. But this
was only the "residential section" of the village and below
the knoll on the opposite side of a shallow stream lay the shops and markets.
In the village
we saw them often, wandering about the streets or sitting in yellow groups
beneath the giant trees which threw a welcome shade over almost every
house. They were not all children, and finely built youths or men so old
that they seemed like wrinkled bits of lemon peel, passed to and fro to
the temple on the hill.
no dearth of priests, for every family in the village with male children
is required to send at least one boy to live a part of his life under
the tutelage of the Church. He must remain three years, and longer, if
he wishes. The priests are fed by the monastery, and their clothing is
not an important item of expenditure as it consists merely of a straw
hat and a yellow robe. They lead a lazy, worthless life, and from their
sojourn in religious circles they learn only indolence and idleness.
following our arrival in Meng-ting the weekly market was held, and when
Wu and I crossed the little stream to the business part of the village,
we found ourselves in the midst of the most picturesque crowd of natives
it has ever been my fortune to see. It was a group flashing with color,
and every individual a study for an artist. There were blue-clad Chinese,
Shans with tattooed legs, turbans of pink or white, and Burmans dressed
in brilliant purple or green, Las (3), yellow-skinned Lisos, flat-faced
Palaungs (4), Was, and Kachins in black and red strung about with beads
or shells. Long swords hung from the shoulders of those who did not carry
a spear or gun, and the hilts of wicked looking daggers peeped from beneath
their sashes. Every man carried a weapon ready for instant use.
were present in the market that day and almost as many languages were
being spoken. It was a veritable Babel and half the trading was done by
signs. The narrow street was choked with goods of every kind spread out
upon the ground: fruit, rice, cloth, nails, knives, swords, hats, sandals,
skins, horns, baskets, mats, crossbows, arrows, pottery, tea, opium, and
scores of other articles for food or household use.
natives were arriving and departing, bringing new goods or packing up
their purchases; under open, thatched pavilions were silent groups of
men gambling with cash or silver, and in the "tea houses" white-faced
natives lay stretched upon the couches rolling "pills" of opium
and oblivious to the constant stream of passers-by.
It was a
picturesque, ever changing group, a kaleidoscopic mass of life and color,
where Chinese from civilized Canton drank, and gambled, and smoked with
wild natives from the hills or from the depths of fever-stricken jungles.
the Shans at Nam-ka to be simple and honest people but abnormally lazy.
During our three weeks' stay not a single trap was stolen, although the
natives prized them highly, and often brought to us those in which animals
had been caught. Shans were continually about our camp where boxes were
left unlocked, but not an article of our equipment was missed.
Shans elevated their houses on six-foot poles and built an open porch
in front of the door, while the dwellings at Meng-ting and farther up
the valley were all placed upon the ground. The thatched roofs overhung
several feet and the sides of the houses were open so that the free passage
of air kept them delightfully cool. Moreover, they were surprisingly clean,
for the floors were of split bamboo, and the inmates, if they wore sandals,
left them at the door. In the center of the single room, on a large flat
stone, a small fire always burned, but much of the cooking was done on
the porch where a tiny pavilion had been erected over the hearth.
at Nam-ka had "no visible means of support." The extensive rice
paddys indicated that in the past there had been considerable cultivation
but the fields were weed-grown and abandoned. The villagers purchased
all their vegetables from the Mohammedan hunter and two other Chinese
who lived a mile up the trail, or from passing caravans whom they sometimes
entertained. In all probability they lived upon the sale of smuggled opium
for they were only a few miles from the Burma border.
every Shan we saw in the south was heavily tattooed. Usually the right
leg alone, but sometimes both, were completely covered from the hip to
the knee with intricate designs in black or red. The ornamentations often
extended entirely around the body over the abdomen and waist, but less
frequently on the breast and arms.
natives were inordinately proud of these decorations and usually fastened
their wide trousers in such a way as to display them to the best advantage.
We often could persuade a man to pose before the camera by admiring his
tattoo marks and it was most amusing to watch his childlike pleasure.
tribe is a large one with many subdivisions, and it is probable that at
one time it inhabited a large part of China south of the Yangtze River;
indeed, there is reason to believe that the Cantonese Chinamen are chiefly
of Shan stock, and the facial resemblance between the two races certainly
the Shans formerly ruled a vast territory in Yün-nan before its conquest
by the Mongol emperors of China in the thirteenth century A.D., and at
one time actually subdued Burma and established a dynasty of their own,
at present the only independent kingdom of the race is that of Siam. By
far the greatest number of Shans live in semi-independent states tributary
to Burma, China, and Siam, and in Yün-nan inhabit almost all of the
southern valleys below an altitude of 4,000 feet.
that the Chinese allow them to hold such an extent of fertile land is
because the low plains are considered unhealthy and the Chinese cannot,
or will not, live there. Whether or not the malarial fever of the valleys
is so exceedingly deadly remains to be proved, but the Chinese believe
it to be so and the result is the same. Where the Shans are numerous enough
to have a chief of their own they live in a semi-independent state, for
although their head man is subordinate to the district Chinese official,
the latter seldom interferes with the internal affairs of the tribe.
are a short, strongly-built race with a distinct Mongolian type of features
and rather fair complexions. Their dress varies decidedly with the region,
but the men of the southern part of the province on the Nam-ting River
wear a pair of enormous trousers, so baggy that they are almost skirtlike,
a white jacket, and a large white or pink turban surmounted by a huge
straw hat. The women dress in a white jacket and skirt of either striped
or dark blue cloth; their turbans are of similar material and may be worn
in a high cylinder, a low oval, or many other shapes according to the
particular part of the province in which they live.
Chapman Andrews and Yvette Borup Andrews.- Camps and Trails in China.
A Narrative of Exploration, Adventure, and Sport in Little-Known China.1918
|Back to Dai main page|
|© Copyright 2007 www.ethnic-china.com|
Buy books related to China Ethnic Groups and help to develop this web