The Naxi of Yunnan in 1917


The Naxi of Yunnan in 1917, as seen by Roy Chapman Andrews in Camps and Trails in China (1)


Li-chiang(2) is a fur market of considerable importance for the Tibetans bring down vast quantities of skins for sale and trade. Lambs, goats, foxes, cats, civets, pandas, and flying squirrels hang in the shops and there are dozens of fur dressers who do really excellent tanning.

This city is a most interesting place especially on market day, for its inhabitants represent many different tribes with but comparatively few Chinese. By far the greatest percentage of natives are the Mosos(3) who are semi-Tibetan in their life and customs. They were originally an independent race who ruled a considerable part of northern Yün-nan, and Li-chiang was their ancient capital. To the effeminate and "highly civilized" Chinese they are "barbarians," but we found them to be simple, honest and wholly delightful people. Many of those whom we met later had never seen a white woman, and yet their inherent decency was in the greatest contrast to that of the Chinese who consider themselves so immeasurably their superior.

The Mosos have large herds of sheep and cattle, and this is the one place in the Orient except in large cities along the coast, where we could obtain fresh milk and butter. As with the Tibetans, buttered tea and tsamba (parched oatmeal) are the great essentials, but they also grow quantities of delicious vegetables and fruit. Buttered tea is prepared by churning fresh butter into hot tea until the two have become well mixed. It is then thickened with finely ground tsamba until a ball is formed which is eaten with the fingers. The combination is distinctly good when the ingredients are fresh, but if the butter happens to be rancid the less said of it the better.

The natives of this region are largely agriculturists and raise great quantities of squash, turnips, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, onions, corn, peas, beans, oranges, pears, persimmons and nuts. While traveling we filled our saddle pockets with pears and English walnuts or chestnuts and could replenish our stock at almost any village along the road.

Everything was absurdly cheap. Eggs were usually about eight cents (Mexican) a dozen, and we could always purchase a chicken for an empty tin can, or two for a bottle. In fact, the latter was the greatest desideratum and when offers of money failed to induce a native to pose for the camera a bottle nearly always would decide matters in our favor...



We hired four Moso hunters in the Snow Mountain village. They were picturesque fellows, supposedly dressed in skins, but their garments were so ragged and patched that it was difficult to determine the original material of which they were made.
One of them was armed with a most extraordinary gun which, it was said, came from Tibet. Its barrel was more than six feet long, and the stock was curved like a golf stick. A powder fuse projected from a hole in the side of the barrel, and just behind it on the butt was fastened a forked spring. At his waist the man carried a long coil of rope, the slowly burning end of which was placed in the crotched spring. When about to shoot the native placed the butt of the weapon against his cheek, pressed the spring so that the burning rope's end touched the powder fuse, and off went the gun.

The three other hunters carried crossbows and poisoned arrows. They were remarkably good shots and at a distance of one hundred feet could place an arrow in a six-inch circle four times out of five. We found later that crossbows are in common use throughout the more remote parts of Yün-nan and were only another evidence that we had suddenly dropped back into the Middle Ages and, with our high-power rifles and twentieth century equipment, were anachronisms.

The natives are able to obtain a good deal of game even with such primitive weapons for they depend largely upon dogs which bring gorals and serows to bay against a cliff and hold them until the men arrive. The dogs are a mongrel breed which appears to be largely hound, and some are really excellent hunters. White is the usual color but a few are mixed black and brown, or fox red. Hotenfa, one of our Mosos, owned a good pack and we all came to love its big red leader. This fine dog could be depended upon to dig out game if there was any in the mountains, but his life with us was short for he was killed by our first serow. Hotenfa was inconsolable and the tears he shed were in sincere sorrow for the loss of a faithful friend.

Almost every family owns a dog…The dogs of the non-Chinese tribes were in fairly good condition and there seemed to be comparatively little disease among them. Our hunters treated their hounds kindly and fed them well, but the animals themselves, although loyal to their masters, manifested but little affection. In Korea dogs are eaten by the natives, but none of the tribes with which we came in contact in Yün-nan used them for food.

When the hunters were carrying the goral to camp we met Yvette and Heller on their way to visit the traps just below snow line, and she returned with me to photograph the animal and to watch the ceremonies which I knew would be performed. One of the natives cut a leafy branch, placed the goral upon it and at the first cut chanted a prayer. Then laying several leaves one upon the other he sliced off the tip of the heart, wrapped it carefully in the leaves and placed it in a nearby tree as an offering to the God of the Hunt.

All during the morning girls and women flocked up the hill with trays of gifts. There were many Mosos and other tribesmen among them as well as Chinese. The Moso girls wore their black hair cut short on the sides and hanging in long narrow plaits down their backs. They wore white leather capes (at least that was the original shade) and pretty ornaments of silver and coral at their throats, and as they were young and gay with glowing red cheeks and laughing eyes they were decidedly attractive.

(1) Roy Chapman Andrews and Yvette Borup Andrews.- Camps and Trails in China. A Narrative of Exploration, Adventure, and Sport in Little-Known China.1918
(2) Lijiang.
(3) The Naxi were known as Moso before 1949.

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