During my visit to Guizhou, a province of Southwest China, we spent several days with members of the Black Miao minority group, the ethnic group to which our colorful local leader Mr. Lee belongs. We visited several Black Miao villages, one of which was featured in my previous blog post on the making of indigo (Indigo, A Kind of Blue In Guizhou). We visited another Black Miao village, Yangwu, as a very lively market was taking place. We came across a number of Black Miao working in the fields and joined a festival in the Black Miao village of Paizuo. The Black Miao are named after the dark indigo color used in their everyday clothing. On festive days, however, the women sport an elaborate hairstyle typically decorated with silver ornaments and wear beautiful embroidered clothing.
Though the headdress and outfits of the ladies were quite impressive, these were not the most memorable aspect of the festival. While walking around on the festival grounds, I noticed a number of birdcages lined up on the side of a wall. I know that all over China, men keep birds they have purchased in cages to enjoy their singing. I was quite surprised to see the cages at the festival and concluded that it was very considerate to bring the birds along for a bit of fresh air. That is until I realized that these men’s singing companions were also fighting companions.
Yes, singing birds, a species of thrushes (or Hwamei) are trained to fight one another, though thankfully not in a bloody way. At the festival, a large group of men sat for hours looking intently at pairs of birds fighting one another in their cages. From what I could observe, the two cages are put next to one another with open doors allowing the birds to go from one cage to the next. Eventually, one of the birds will jump in the adjacent cage to “fight” with its opponent. After some displaying of what seem to be “power poses” and considerable bickering, one of the birds eventually retreats to the empty cage to safety and is declared the loser of the fight. I would not be “shocked” to learn that money is exchanged depending on the outcome.
This festival also featured fighting of much larger animals. One of the most popular events at this festival was water buffalo fighting. Here again, water buffaloes owned by various communities are brought in to fight one another for the pride of the village. Large crowds are there to cheer at the event. During dull times between the battles (and there are many), the now-familiar sound of the luzhen instrument (Hill Tribes of Remote China) could be heard. The main drama in these fights is when the horns of the water buffaloes get intertwined with one another and get stuck. Then two teams of “bullboys” (my term) will go and try to “unlock” them. As with the birds, the winning buffalo is the one that stays while the losing one runs for safety. I am told that occasionally the animals get hurt but thankfully not this time.
Go Bulls (a familiar cheer for a Chicago resident),
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