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The Hezhe ethnic minority

(People's Daily)

09:18, August 10, 2011

Population: 4,300

Major areas of distribution: Heilongjiang

Language: Hezhe and Han

Religion: originally Shamanism


Photo: Chen Haiwen

The Hezhes are one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in China. In fact, poverty and oppression had reduced their numbers to a mere 300 at the time of the founding of the People¡¯s Republic of China in 1949. Since then, however, they have made speedy advances in their economic life and health care, so that by 1990 the population had grown to 4,300.

They are a nomadic people who live mainly by hunting and fishing in the plain formed by the Heilong, Songhua and Wusuli rivers in Tongjiang, Fuyuan and Raohe counties in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. Their language, which belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic family, has no written form. For communication with outsiders they use the spoken and written Chinese language.

In winter they travel by sled and hunt on skis. They are also skilled at carpentry, tanning and iron smelting; but these are still cottage industries.

Customs and Culture

Traditional Hezhe clothing is made of fish skins and deer hides. The decorations of the clothes consist of buttons made of catfish bones and collars and cuffs dyed in cloud-shaped patterns. Women wear fish-skin and deer-hide dresses decorated with shells and colored strips of dyed deer hide in cloud, plant and animal designs. Bear skins and birch bark are also used to make thick boots which everyone wears in winter.

Unmarried girls used to tie their hair in one braid, while married women wore two. Bracelets were common ornaments for all women, but only old women wore earrings.

Since the mid-20th century, these styles have fallen out of fashion to a great extent, along with the primitive shamanism which used to be the Hezhes' religion.

Monogamy is the normal practice, but polygamy was sometimes indulged in by the wealthier members of the tribe. Marriage partners had to be selected from among members of other clans, and early marriage, arranged by the parents, was normal. Though remarriage for widows was sanctioned, no marriage ceremony was performed.

The dead were buried in the wilderness, in log-lined pits covered with a mound. Dead infants were bundled in birch bark and suspended from the limbs of trees, in the hope that their souls would be freed into the air and promote the prosperity of the parents.

Story telling and ballad singing are favorite pastimes among the Hezhe people, who have a wealth of folktales. Some of the longer epics and ballads can last for days on end, as tales of ancient heroes are narrated in speech alternating with songs.

Short and lively shuohuli songs used to be sung by the elders to initiate the younger members of the tribe into the tribal lore. The Hezhes also sing songs with extempore words; typical are "jialingkuo" and "henina." Embroidery is a highly developed art among the Hezhes -- probably perfected over the centuries of long winter nights. Geometrical and floral patterns decorate clothing, shoes and tobacco pouches.

They are also noted for their carved wooden furniture, birch bark boxes and utensils, which sport images of Buddha, plants and animals.
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Email|Print|Comments(Editor:黄蓓蓓)

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  1. Name

rTdcthFNwgjvEo at 2011-08-24107.20.10.*
I wnated to spend a minute to thank you for this.
VqzZqEBTUe at 2011-08-23115.186.95.*
This has made my day. I wish all potsnigs were this good.
mEhvMhWTcsA at 2011-08-2365.52.176.*
I recokn you are quite dead on with that.
  

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