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The Gelo ethnic minority

(People's Daily)

17:20, August 18, 2011

Population: 438,200

Major area of distribution: Guizhou and Guangxi

Language: Gelo

Religion: Polytheism


Photo: Chen Haiwen


The 438,200 Gelos live in dispersed clusters of communities in about 20 counties in western Guizhou Province, four counties of the Wenshan Zhuang-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in southeastern Yunnan Province and the Longlin Multi-ethnic Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Only about a quarter of the Gelos still speak the Gelo language belonging to the Chinese-Tibetan language family. Yet, because of close contact with other ethnic groups, their language has not remained pure -- even within counties. There are Gelo-speaking people unable to converse with each other. For this reason, the language of the Hans, or Chinese, has become their common language, though many Gelos have learned three or four languages from other people in their communities, including the Miaos, Yis and Bouyeis. Living among other ethnic groups, the Gelos have become largely assimilated to the majority Han customs.

How the Gelos Live

The Gelos' living quarters, like those of their Han neighbors, usually consist of a central kitchen and two bedrooms built on a hillside or at the foot of a mountain. Before liberation, poor Gelos lived in mud, bamboo or stone houses, some with thatched roofs. Landlords and wealthier peasants lived in houses with wooden columns and thick stone slabs, with tile or stone roofs. Now, nearly everyone lives in houses of wood.

Gelos continued to wear their ethnic costumes until 30 or 40 years ago. Women wore very short jackets with sleeves embroidered with patterns of fish scale. They wore tight skirts divided into three sections, the middle one of red wool and the upper and lower ones of black-and-white striped linen. Gelo women also wore short, black sleeveless gowns which hung longer in the back. Their shoes had pointed, upturned toes. Men wore front-buttoned jackets, and both sexes wore long scarves.

In the mountain areas, the Gelos eat mostly maize, while in the flatlands, they eat wheat, rice, millet and sorghum. All the Gelos -- like many other Chinese -- love to eat hot and sour dishes as well as glutinous rice cakes.

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