Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan: China’s Last Primitive Tribe

In Yunnan Province, there is an isolated remote village where people still maintain an ancient lifestyle – that’s Wengding Wa Nationality Gregarious Village, China’s last primitive tribe. It has preserved the most typical architectural style of the Wa nationality, the most primitive folk customs and the most ecological culture. This group is one of the best-preserved ancient communities in China today.

Wengding Wa Nationality Gregarious Village in Cangyuan County, Yunnan

Wengding Wa Village is located in Cangyuan County, Lincang. In Wa language, “weng” means water, “ding” means connection, so Wengding means “the water of connection”. In the village, there are about 98 households with over 400 Wa people. The cottages, tea mountains, terraces and white clouds form a natural farming community landscape.

The ox is the totem of Wa people. Wa people admire ox and regard it as fortune. Ox-head shaped pile is regarded as power and fortune. People take the number of Ox-head shaped pile as a way to judge the poor or the rich. Therefore, where there are Wa people’s households, there are ox-shaped piles.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-the ox is the totem of Wa people.

The thatched cottages in the Wengding village are old and mysterious. For centuries, Wengding still remains the “railing” architectural style. People use the ground floor for feeding livestock and the upper one for accommodation. The two-story railing design enables people living in the second floor to avoid humidity and low temperature. The separations of the building structure also avoid insect or beast intrusion at the same time. In fact, every two year the roof must go through a large-scale restoration.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-the thatched cottage

The pole standing in the middle of the village remains after the original totem worship. In ancient times, it was regarded as the symbol of tribe, also a site for religious activities, military use and tribe meeting. Nowadays, this site has become a place for Wa people to gather together and have fun. When the Spring Festival comes, people always put their job aside, dancing and singing around the pole all the night to worship ancestors and gods, pray for peace and wish everything going on well.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-Totem Pole of the Wa Ethnic Group

The wooden drum is admired as a sacre thing by the Wa people of all ages. People think if they beat the drum, it can pass their ideas to the gods, expel demons and bring good luck. At that time, people beat the drum to warn people and gathered them if there was an emergency such as war. People also beat drum to show admiration to the hunters when they caught tigers or leopards. When it is holiday or there is religious activity, wooden drums are exciting musical instruments.

The Wa people take the wooden drum making day as a grand festival, which is called “Pulling Wooden Drum”. The Wa people think that only pulling the wooden drum allows you to receive blessings from the gods, and keep the village safe and a bumper harvest. Therefore, the whole village people dress in holiday best and go to the deep mountains to select trees. After that all villagers sing and dance happily and carry the log back. When pulling the log to the gate of the village, people start to fire a shot, slaughter the ox and held a grand sacrificial ceremony.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-pulling wooden drum

Wooden drum dance, deriving from wooden drum, represents the worship of nature and gods of the Wa people, indicating the concept of animism. But now, it is fading away. This dance has become a kind of folk cultural art, which reflects the splendid history and culture of Wa people. The wooden drum dance, which has been included in the list of national intangible cultural heritage, is described as “the most magnificent dance, the most soul-stirring resound and the most sacred moments, just like the most brilliant sun”.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-Wooden Drum Dance of the Wa Ethnic Group in Cangyuan County

Tobacco pipe, in your impression, is the symbol of men. But here, it is completely the opposite. Many Wa women in village hold big pipes in their mouth while men smoke cigarette. Women in Wa village prefer smoking and this custom has been passing down for thousands of years.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-Va women prefering smoking

Black is auspicious color of Wa people. The costume is usually black-based in Wa villages and Wa women even color their teeth to black with a special coating every three days. The “Monihei Carnival” (making you black), a mud smearing carnival of the Wa ethnic group in Cangyuan County, has attracted a lot of tourists both from home and abroad. It is said this festival takes its meaning from the custom that the people smear the pot ash, ox blood and mud on other persons’ face to frighten the evils and seek peace. The players can use natural paints to smear each other and pray for each other.

Wengding Wa Village in Yunnan-the Monihei Carnival of the Wa Ethnic Group in Cangyuan County

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