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The Tujia ethnic group has a population of over 8 million, and is distributed in provinces of Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Guizhou. The Tujia people mainly engage in agriculture and fishing. Tourism is also very popular, with abundant natural tourist resources in the Tujia area, such as Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Mt. Wuling, Mt. Wushan and Mt. Wudang.
The Tujia people possess their own language, which belongs to Tibeto-Burman language system. Because of long-term communication with the Han people, many can speak Mandarin Chinese. At present the Tujia’s language is used only in a few areas; it lacks written characters, so Chinese characters are used.
White tiger is highly revered by the Tujia people, because they believe they are the descendants of the white tiger. Apart from offering the religious sacrifice to worship white tigers, the Tujia people use the images of the white tiger very often in their daily life to ward off the evil.
The Tujia ethnic group has a long history that can be traced back to 2,000 years ago, when they settled in today’s provinces of Hunan and Hubei. They lived with other nationalities like Miao and Han. The Tujia ethnic group was officially recognized as one of the 55 ethnic groups in 1957 by the Chinese Government, and a number of autonomous prefectures and counties were established.
Tujia people mainly eat rice and corn, and sometimes wheat and sweet potatoes. They especially favor sour and spicy flavors, and eat a lot of pickles. Usually they have three meals a day. During busy farming season, when heavier labor is required, they will add another meal in the morning, snacks such as Tangyuan (glutinous sweet dumplings), or mungbean starch. This meal is considered auspicious and will bring bumper harvest.
When guests come to visit during festivals, the host will serve Ciba (glutinous rice cake). Ciba is white, made of glutinous rice, with shape of a discus and size of a palm. The Ciba is baked till the surface chaps and takes on a burnt color. Then the dust is wiped off, and honey or white sugar is filled into the Ciba before it is served with both hands to the guests.
The Tujia people like living in groups, and Diaojiaolou (house projected over the ground by pilings) is their common house style. The house is made of wood, with tile roof, up-turned eaves, and balcony with carved wooden handrails. The Tujia areas are of high altitude with low temperature and humid air. Diaojiaolou has many merits. It is well-ventilated, damp-proof, and it protects against snakes or bugs. The handrails are useful for hanging clothes and other agricultural produce.
Men's clothing: They typically wear a double-breasted short coat. A long band of cloth is usually tied in their waist. Trousers, usually green and blue, are fat with large and short bottoms. Most men wrap puttees around the legs; their heads are wrapped with a green silk handkerchief or a white cloth of nearly 2 meters long. They wear straw sandals with side opening or full opening, cloth shoes and spiked shoes.
Women's clothing: Tujia women usually wear a blouse with an opening on the right side. The collar is usually embroidered with three laces, and the cuff and the place just right at the lower edge of the collar have three laces of small flowers. They used to wear skirts with many straight ruffles and later changed to big round trousers with three-colored laces at the bottom of the trousers. Young women commonly dress in white coats inside and black short gowns outside because black is like that of a crow and a magpie. Tujia women use a nearly 3 meters long green silk handkerchief to wrap their head decorated with silver pieces like combs and silver hairpins. They also like to wear earrings, bracelets made of gold, silver or jade.
Tujia people are very cautious about the marriage if the bride and the groom have the same surname. If they have the same surname, they may be of the same blood. The marriage of the same blood is a big taboo in Tujia.
Tujia girls will welcome their marriage day by crying. The bride usually starts to cry half a month previous to the wedding day; some even cry about one month. The shortest is about 3 or 5 days. Tujia people judge a girl's intelligence and virtue by how well she can sing crying songs in the wedding.
Ten sisters' accompanying is a unique form that Tujia girl takes when she cries over her marriage. The day previous to the wedding day, her parents will invite 9 unmarried girls in the neighborhood to sit with the bride around the mat singing songs for the whole night, which is called ten sisters' accompanying singing. Ten girls sit around the table, and then the bride cries ten times. At each interval the cook will put a dish on the table. When the bride finishes there are ten dishes at the table. After the ninth girl cries, the bride will have cried ten times, and the cook collects ten dishes one by one. That ends ten sisters' accompanying.
The Tujia people pay great attention to traditional festivals, especially the Sheba Festival. It is celebrated from the 3rd day till the 17th day of the first month on the Chinese calendar. But in some areas, it is celebrated in March or May. This festival is for worshipping the ancestors, and hoping for a prosperous year. It is also a good opportunity for the young people to make friends and find love.
On the occasion, people will wear their holiday best, bring sacrifices and wines, the young men will gird on shotguns and broadswords, and gather together. They set up bonfires, fire shots, sing and dance. Their dance, hand-waving dance, is very unique. When dancing, all the dancers form a circle with the wizard leading at the front. They wave their arms freely in all directions to the music of drums. It is a very ancient dance expressing the origin, religion and lifestyle of the Tujia people.