In the traditional village in Huangluo, north of Guilin, China, you’ll see something unusual among the inhabitants. The women here, members of the ethnic Yao minority, follow a custom that’s been passed down for two millennia: They cut their hair only once in their lives, just before they marry.
Believed by the Yao to symbolize beauty, wealth, and longevity, long hair is considered sacred, and women villagers grow their silken locks to remarkable lengths. Several years ago, the tape measures came out, and it was determined that 60 of the Yao women had hair more than three feet long. One woman’s hair was measured at seven feet.
Lest you think their tresses are rife with split ends, come have a look. You’ll find heads of thick, glossy hair that’s washed in fermented glutinous rice water mixed with herbs and bran and then rinsed in the clear water of the local river.
Hair that’s cut during the coming-of-age ritual is saved in a long ponytail. When a woman bears a child, she clips that preserved ponytail back onto her head next to another made from hair gathered in her comb. Together, all three locks of hair are woven into a massive bun that’s worn on the forehead. Mature women who are unmarried wear their hair in circular buns called spiral shells. They are covered with scarves that are only removed on wedding days.
The Yao are only one of 54 ethnic minority peoples living in China today. In Huangluo, you can visit them dressed in their tradition garb, living as they have for centuries. You can do the same in Yunnan Province, the home of many other ethnic peoples living traditional lives—Yi, Naxi, and Dai among them.
Interested in exploring ethnic China off the beaten path? Contact Kiran Chand at firstname.lastname@example.org for information, or call her at 888-490-8013.
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