The architecture of stone of the Qiang


The Qiang that live in Aba Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province are possibly the indigenous people of China with a more special architecture.

Their houses are generally built of stone, what gives them a majestic and robust aspect. Some of the houses in which the people live were built hundred of years ago. They usually have three floors and a plane roof. The lowest floor is used to keep the livestock and the farm tools, the middle floor is where people live and the superior floor is used as a barn.

The most important part of the house is, logically, the floor where the people live: the scene of family life, which revolves around a fire that is considered sacred. They do not allow the fire to be extinguished throughout the whole year. Over it there is a metal tripod, of sacred meaning for the Qiang. In that floor are the tablets for the ancestors, to which family members pay respect during special festivities. On the roof of each house there is a small white stone, an important religious symbol of the Qiang. In spite of being widespread the meaning of this white stone remains unknown. There, at the highest point of the house, it represents to the God of the Heavens. The Qiang people believe that it can protect everything under her.

The Qiang villages were designed in such a way that, by closing the narrow alleys that exist between the houses, the stone houses became a true defensive wall. Near the villages, there are usually some tall towers of imposing aspect, sometimes located on a small promontory, or at the junction of two rivers.

These towers should not be mistaken with the stone houses of several floors where the people live. Sometimes there is a single tower, other times there are several towers grouped together. They usually are between 30 and 60 meters high. Inside they have floors built with wood, and an inner stairway that allow access to the higher floors. Although the stone walls are well conserved, the inner woods are already rotten in most cases. It is not known with certainty the time of their construction but their quality is very good. In fact, they have resisted several major earthquakes. Although their function is not known, some experts suppose that they had a defensive function.

Professor Sun Hongkai (1), one of the linguists who has put the most effort into analyzing the ethnic labyrinth of that region, is convinced that in the documents of the Han dynasty (2,000 years ago), towers of that type were already described, built in that region by the ancestors of the Qiang. In the Tang dynasty, travelers that visited the area also described these towers, called "Qionglong" at that time.

Professor Sun has concluded that all the peoples that speak languages of the Qiangic branch, such as the Jiarong, Pumi, Muya, Ergong, Guiqiong, Namuyi, Shixing, Ersu and Zhaba (unfortunately not recognized until now as differentiated ethnic entities), built such towers, while other peoples that, though living in the same region, do not speak a language of the Qiangic branch, do not build them.

Their linguistic relationship, their common architecture, and their cult to the white stone, will allow us in coming years to know a little more about the history and the origin of these fascinating human communities that have preserved a unique culture over centuries.

(1) Sun Hongkai. - Shi lun "Qionglong" wenhua yu qiang yu zhi yuyan (On the culture of the towers "Qionglong" and the languages of the Qiangic branch). Minzu Yanjiu 1986-2.

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