Below is an account of Viori's Social Responsibility team member, Amy (Xiao Liu), who attended the annual Red Yao "Hanging Clothes" festival *Please note: the article refers to 'Aunties' and 'Sisters.' These are local, polite ways of addressing ANY women of seniority.
I woke up early today. It's an important day for the Red Yao tribe-- their annual 'Clothes Hanging' festival. This celebration has been a part of their culture for centuries, and I was going to get to experience it for the first time.
Since arriving in Longsheng this trip, I've been staying in Tiantouzhai, one of the villages Viori works with closely. But now, I needed to travel to nearby DaZhai, the village chosen to host this year's festival.
Longsheng is an expansive, mountainous area with many small villages all belonging to the Yao community. To arrive in DaZhai on time for the festival, I'd have to leave early in the morning and hike to the village on foot.
Luckily, one of the Aunties I was staying with told me about a shortcut-- a mountain trail that passed through forests and the iconic rice terraces that have made Longsheng famous. And that's one of the things I love about visiting this special place; every time I'm here, I discover new places, meet new people, and learn new things.
After I fuelled up with a quick local breakfast, I started what would be a 45-minute hike to DaZhai. Unsurprisingly, I wasn't the only person on the trail making the journey to DaZhai. The festival brought together Red Yao tribe members from all over the region.
I was excited to experience the festival first-hand and wanted to be there before it began to document the whole thing. And this is probably why, to my surprise, I found myself walking much faster than everyone else!
Like every village in Longsheng, Dazhai is a small community, surrounded by lush forests and impressive rice terraces. The growing season was in full swing, and the green and gold terraced rice reminded me how lucky I was to be there at such a beautiful time of the year.
As I walked into the village, a lot was happening. People were chatting, laughing, and walking around. I could feel the excitement among the locals. They had big smiles on their faces and were wearing their most beautiful outfits.
Today was to be a day of appreciation for local Yao women particularly. As the name suggests, the "Hanging Clothes" festival celebrates one of the biggest pride-and-joys of the Red Yao women: their beautifully intricate, handmade garments.
I walked deeper into the village and arrived at the main village square. Villagers seemed to be gathering around one particular house located right in front of the square. As I moved closer, it became clear what was going on-- this house had been chosen to display the most beautiful garments and ornaments.
Aunties were proudly hanging up their garments on the face-side of the house. As I observed the preparations, I watched the house slowly fill up with garments, and the Red Yao colors began to dominate the display. It seemed like a theater-set in the making, or better, a piece of art being created on the spot.
Once the garments were all put on display, the festival officially began. If this was what the rest of the day was going to bring, I was in for a treat!
The village started to get more crowded as villagers from other places arrived. "Hey, XiaoLiu!" I heard from somewhere in the crowd. I immediately recognized Sister Pan-- one of Viori's closer connections from Tiantouzhai village, and the first familiar face I saw.
Soon, it was time for another festival highlight. Some of the Aunties would be gathering at a river on the outskirts of the village to give a special demonstration. Luckily, I was told beforehand and was able to beat the crowds to this spot.
The creek was at the edge of the village, and as I arrived, another stunning image was unfolding. A long row of beautiful Red Yao women stood washing their impressively long jet-black hair at the edge of the crystal clear creek. I tried taking pictures while at the same time soaking in the natural beauty of the scene. After a while, the crowd seemed to have picked up on the event, and it became the main spectacle.
It made me think of the importance of these festivals. Creating a platform to share their local culture and practices with the whole Longsheng region helps the Red Yao keep their traditions alive.
The next event was back in the main square, where a big group of Aunties sat behind their looms and demonstrated how they sewed their beautiful garments and ornaments. This was of particular interest to me, as it's at the heart of one of Viori's BRI projects (you can read about our Local Ornaments Project here).
Soon, more familiar faces showed up in the square. The Aunties and Sisters all seemed very excited to see me. "You made it!" one Auntie said with a big smile and seemingly proud look on her face. It was heart-warming to see how happy they were to see me amongst all the other people. They really made me feel like family.
"It's lunchtime; come with us!" Auntie Pan told me.
Despite there being Red Yao tribes from different villages, each individual tribe still preferred to have lunch amongst themselves. It was nice to regroup after having been scattered throughout the busy crowds during the morning. And it felt comforting to eat with all the familiar Aunties-- just like being back in their village together.
After lunch, it was time to for more the next festival attraction. This time, we had to hike up the mountain a bit to see what was happening. Standing on a good spot, I could see Red Yao Women slowly walking behind each other, with what resembled a long red dragon moving its way through the rice paddies. What an incredible sight. It was part of a local wedding ceremony. Several young couples had chosen this day to get married, which was, of course, seen as good fortune. What better day to get married than one in which all the Red Yao tribe members were there to congratulate you?!
Several other activities followed, and it was getting late into the afternoon. Having been separated again, I was called by several Aunties asking me what my plans were. "Come home with us! We have a great meal waiting." Being tired, this sounded very tempting. However, with several activities still planned and this being my first time to attend, I decided to stay.
As the festival continued, I felt something big was about to happen. I followed some people up towards the mountain top, and as the sun was setting and the rice terraces fading out, something interesting was happening...
While I was looking over the Longsheng mountain range, the mountains started to light up. It was as if countless fireflies switched on one after the other. I later found out that the villagers had placed hundreds of candles in the rice terraces and were lighting them up.
As the magic unfolded, the candles began to form a huge flaming dragon that swirled over the mountains. Fittingly, the word "Longsheng" actually translates as 'Dragons Back'-- this was the perfect ending to an unforgettable day.
The festival lasted long into the night and ended with a local dance around a campfire. It was 10:30 pm, and I was to leave Longsheng early the following day. So, together with some locals, I walked back along the hiking trail towards Tiantouzhai village, where I was staying.
When I arrived back in Tiantouzhai, I was tired but still glowing from a full day of beautiful new experiences.
At the guesthouse, I received many thoughtful messages from the Aunties. "I'm a little sad we couldn't have dinner together! Hope you enjoyed the show," one Auntie wrote. They had shown so much care for me during the day that I felt closer to them than ever.
As midnight approached and I was getting ready to rest, the phone rang again. It was Auntie Pan.
"XiaoLiu...hope you had a great time today. I know you're leaving tomorrow. When will you be back 'home'? Knowing that with 'home' she meant Longsheng, I said, "Very soon, Auntie, very soon." "Good to hear," she replied, and we said goodnight.