inside thoughts on China and beyond

Photo Story – The Dong: in the Shadow of the Drum Tower

Guizhou, squeezed in between well-known provinces like Yunnan, Guangxi and Sichuan, is one of the poorest provinces of China, as an old Guizhou proverb reflects about its self: “No three days of sunshine, no three parcels of flat land, and no people with three pieces of silver.”

Going over the newly paved highways cutting through the south-eastern part of this province like a growing spider web, constantly tunneling into mountains and flying over valleys, passing hamlets that till yesterday were only reachable on foot, you cannot but wonder how this will affect the centuries old cultures of the local minorities as the Miao, Dong, Shui and many more. And highways are only one of the many forms of infrastructure penetrating the small wooden homes –and the slowest.

Amy Tan, a well-known writer who visited Demin, an isolated Dong village, in 2008 already noticed it. Not only do visitors with their cameras, phone and candies, whether guided by tour bus or Lonely Planet, affect the community, even more so do TV, internet and the many other forms of multimedia. Entering the living rooms of each household, these gadgets are implanting new impressions and desires and future dreams in the minds of the young generation. Once carelessly splashing in the river naked, thinking of the love songs to sing under the tiled roof of one of the Rain and Wind bridges of town, now the youth of the Dong minority think of that car they saw on TV, the apartment in the city and hope to sing in Karaoke bars. Singing no longer the songs of their people; living no longer the ways of their ancestors. Their Dong culture is bound to rapidly disappear into dusty museums, Disney-like tourist villages and sleepy antique shops.  This photo story gives a glimpse of the life of the Dong, lived in the shadow of the drum tower.

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In the tranquil setting of valleys and mountain slopes, small Dong communities live under the shadow of their drum tower, as their ancestors have done for ages.

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In the early morning, farmers set out to tend their fields.

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Man at work.

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But because many men have left the village in search for better income, only coming home once a year, it is mostly the women doing the hard work.

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In this mountainous area, all transport is on foot; the only 'machines' used are those they can make and carry themselves.

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Using large baskets, the rice harvest is brought from the paddy fields in the valleys and mountain slopes, to small local mills to be hulled.

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Main street in Zhaoxiang, the largest Dong village. The village started with seven family clans; seven hamlets; seven drum towers. From here, families left and set up new settlements in the nearby hills and mountains.

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Stories-of-old are painted on the ancient drum tower in Xiaohuang, towering over the village. Drum towers are the heart of the community: it's where the clan elders meet; where the shamans perform to recover the souls of sick; where funeral ceremonies are held and where the village gathers and gossips.

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Animals on the edge of the drum tower's roof offer protection against evil spirits.

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Each village is built around a river or well, with old tile-roofed Rain-and-Wind bridges across it. These bridges are meeting point for young lovers and old gossipers.

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The river is the village's lifeline: kids play and bath here, vegetables are cleaned in it, clothes are washed and its fishes are eaten.

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Choosing diner...

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Three generations: child - mum - grandparents.... Dad is away, working as migrant worker in faraway cities.

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Like this girl, young boys and girls are often shaved bald to make them appear less attractive for the Evil One.

The Dong are well-known for their singing. As an old lady explained to us: " When we are tired of talking or don't know what to say, we'll sing." A tradition that will soon be lost on the SMS-generation.

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Grandma and grandchild watching the young women perform under the drum tower.

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Traditional dress of the Dong is a heavy load of silver and jewelery often passed-down from previous generations, reflecting the families wealth and status. It is worn only on special occasions.

Young men and women sing responses to each other as part of their courting. Traditionally, this is done under one of the village's drum towers or wind-and-rain bridges, or wherever passion flirts up...

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Instruments are all hand-made by the Dong.

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Traditional dress of the Dong is different per village.

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Traditional dress of the Dong women.

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Watching the young perform, remembering the good old days...

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A time to rest.

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A time to look back and reflect.

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A time to look back and reflect.

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And, under the protection of the drum tower, a time to sleep.

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And time to play, day in, day out.

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But some, while others have time to rest and 'retire', still need to work. These old Dong women are sewing their dyed cloth.

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Working in the coolness of a dark alley.

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The refined work of making a skirt, done by old, very old hands.

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And then, there comes a time to depart from this world. Here, under the drum tower, a funeral ceremony is held. Throughout the day, villagers and relatives come to pay respect by bowing for the deceased and his family and setting off firecrackers.

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More photo impressions on this topic can be viewed on my photo site in the folder: Guizhou (Dong).
For photo impressions on other Guizhou minorities, select and click the name: Miao; Yao and Shui.
Copyright © Steven Dorgelo Photography

 

3 responses

  1. Denise

    Very good photography Steven! You should do an assembly for school next term, and get them thinking about the impact of places like Walmart opening around the school
    I still need an email to Jenn…. one line will do…
    Denise 🙂

    July 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm

  2. Jing

    After reading through all these photos, I could not believe that we went on the same trip!!! You are a marvellous photographer!!

    July 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm

  3. Those picture of Zhaoxing are great. Beautiful B&W!

    July 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm

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