Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

The Dulong River is located in the borderlands of northwestern Yunnan Province, it is connected to the Tibetan Tsum County in the north and to the Union of Myanmar in the southwest, it is like a green dragon lying between the Gaoligong and Lika mountains for thousands of years.

The unique mountain climate and pristine natural environment have made the Dulong River hinterland an unknown secret of the Yunnan border region. There is an ethnic group that has lived in isolation for generations. Until 1951, this ethnic group did not even have an official name and had a population of less than 1,800 people.

This is the Dulong, one of the 55 minority groups in China and the least populated minority in Yunnan Province.

The Dulong are one of the few ethnic groups that still retain their primitive social group marriage families during the founding of New China. Their unique living environment makes them believe in ghosts and gods, and they are also full of reverence for nature. For a long time, they lived a primitive life of slash-and-burn farming, forming their own language and customs.

More commonly known than the ethnic group itself is the Dulong's distinctive "tattooed women". This is a cultural form unique to this ethnic group, from which the last of the Chinese "tattooed women" originated.

Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

So what kind of a people is this? What kind of development has this people undergone? What is the custom of "tattooed women"?

The Drones are the "People of the Ages"

The word "Dulong" originates from the Dulong River, which the Tibetans call "Qu" and "Qu Luo", and the neighboring Lisu people call it "Zilpa". The word "Dulong" originates from the Dulong River. Until today, there has never been a definite origin of the Dulong people. They have their own language, but did not develop their own script in the process of development.

For the record of things, often take the knotted rope method of notation or carved wood method of notation is completed. Today many older Dulong people can not exactly express the date of their birth, or even an approximate date.

Their parents also only used specific things that happened at the time of the child's birth to record on their behalf, such as birth on a snowy day, birth when the crops were ripe, birth on the day of the full moon, and so on. So for them one did not have the concept of writing, and the other did not have the concept of recording explicitly with numbers, let alone leaving any specific documentation during the long development process.

Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

Due to the low productivity and closed natural environment, the concept of "money" did not arise, and bartering was the most common method of circulation. At the same time, this led to a slow, if not stagnant, social civilization among the Dulong people, which developed on its own.

More visually, the first photograph of the Dulong people, taken in 1923, shows a Dulong man with his hair down and wearing rough linen clothes, just like the "ancient people".

In order to clarify the origins of this ethnic group, historians first speculated that the Dulong belonged to the Qiang tribe based on their unique language, and then compiled and summarized the legends and tales of their clans in the hope of finding some clues. Soon, historians found that even though different groups had their own cultural legends, most of them mentioned the existence of the Nujiang River.

Combined with the cultural habits handed down by the Dulong people, most people agree that the Dulong people migrated to the Dulong River from the Nu, Jinsha, and Lancang rivers. Moreover, it is likely that the Dulong were the earliest inhabitants of the Nu and Dulong river basins.

Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

Second, the unique cultural customs

Dulong and its worship of the power of nature, the mountains, grass, rivers and rocks can be seen as the incarnation of the gods. Therefore, the Dulong people attach great importance to worship, and they have to play the trigrams and worship when they are old, sick or dead. The most important and only festival of the Dulong people is "Kachakwa" on January 10th and 11th every year. During these two days, the Dulong will gather all their people together to perform worship rituals.

During the festival, the most grand event is the bull plagiarism, in which a young man with both parents in the family plagiarizes the bull with a sharp bamboo spear, while the rest of the clan forms a circle around it, beating gongs and drums, waving swords and dancing to make a big show. After the ceremony, the Dulong people will put the beef on the charcoal fire and then distribute it to the participating clansmen.

The almost primitive way of life makes the Dulong people attach great importance to the unity within the tribe, and when they catch a beast or cook a sheep or a cow, they invite their neighbors to a common meal. The simple Dulong people are also very hospitable, even if they don't know each other, they can have a full meal and a warm bed to sleep. Only during the most grand rituals will guests be invited to stay away.

Before the founding of New China, the Dulong still retains the marriage form of clan exogamy, and the two sides of the marriage must be from two different clans. The Dulong often have group marriages, that is, the male side of the clan of several blood brothers and sisters of the female clan married each other, and each clan has a fixed relationship between each other.

Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

There is also a wife and sister marriage in the Dulong tribe, if a woman proposes a divorce or abandons her husband and runs away, the woman's family either pays the bride price used by the man's family for the marriage, or lets her sister replace her sister as compensation.

Both forms of marriage were seen as conducive to inter-clan harmony and would ensure the production of a sufficient labor force. After the founding of New China, this marriage system was gradually abolished, and Dulong marriages became more democratic, no longer relying on parental decisions as they had previously.

Three, "tattooed female" is the tragedy of the times

Dulong women have the custom of tattooing their faces, and the daughters of each family will have to tattoo their faces to symbolize their adulthood as soon as they reach the year of the golden hairpin. The tattoo is done by an experienced older woman with a thin bamboo stick dipped in potpourri to draw a pattern with symbolic meaning on the face, and then a hand holding a bamboo needle and a needle stick to pierce the needle into the girl's face along the pattern.

For each stitch you have to wipe off the blood and put on pot ash so that the pot ash can get into the wound of the stitches. The needle holes are too small, so it takes at least ten days or so to get a complete tattooed face in the face color. During this time, the twelve or thirteen year old girl has to experience the pain of the bamboo needles piercing her skin countless times every day.

Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

After three or four days of scabbing, permanent blue and purple marks will appear on the face, and one mark will form a unique tattoo on the face of the older Dulong women. There is a lot of speculation about the origin of this custom, but according to Dulong legends and indirect historical data, it is speculated that the tattooed face of Dulong women is a negative self-help method.

The Dulong live close to the Tibetan sphere of influence, and Yunnan is another minority region. In recent centuries, the Tibetan and Lisu ethnic groups on the edge of the Dulong have frequently invaded the Dulong region. This is one of the reasons why the Dulong had a population of less than 1,800 in the early years of the country, followed by the living environment and productivity.

Although the Tibetans and the Nguraks were also ethnic minorities, a slave-owning class had already emerged, and they infested and exploited the Dulong. In the local oral tradition, there was a Tibetan Toji named Tsawalong, who was greedy for money and lust and asked the Dulong to offer various goods every year, and also forced young Dulong women to work as slaves in Tibetan areas from time to time.

In order to protect themselves from being taken away as slaves by the Tsavaron and other slavers, the Dulong women had no choice but to take this disfiguring way to protect themselves. Of course, some people say that the Dulong women's face color tattoos are used to ward off evil spirits and rituals, or perhaps it is a unique local aesthetic style. Whether these views are right or wrong, there is no way to examine them.

Dulong: the least populated ethnic group in Yunnan Province, where young girls go through bamboo needle tattooing at the age of 13

Since the founding of New China, the state has increased its support for ethnic minorities, especially the Dulong, an ethnic group with a small population and a harsh living environment. The bad customs of the Dulong women tattooing their faces have also been abolished long ago. With the implementation of the state's poverty alleviation work and the continuous improvement of the grassroots buildings, the living environment of the Dulong people has changed drastically.

Text/Ki Case


1. "Contemporary changes in the traditional intermarriage circle of the Dulong people", Sang Kun

2, "Dulong Dulong Women's Tattooed Face Exam", Bai Ruiyan