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Matang is about 21 km north of Kaili City, in Guizhou Province. People living here are a subgroup of the Miao minority people, and call themselves “Gejia”. At present, the village has about 100 families with 400–500 people. They maintain traditional language, costumes, totems and customs.
While some larger villages in Guizhou have started commercialization, Matang is still far from the madding crowd. If you would like to observe the original life-style of a minority people group in Guizhou, just follow me into this small but lovely village.
When working or resting, Gejia women dress in everyday costumes. At festivals or to receive honored guests, they dress up in their more distinctive ceremonial costumes. These include red fringe hats, twinkling silver ornaments, clothes with batik patterns and embroidery, armor-like tippets, pleated short skirts and embroidered leg wrappings.
The costumes of Gejia people help preserve history and legend, the memory of their ancestors’ great achievements. They wear pendants in the shape of swords, spears or arrows, and the patterns on their clothes portray their ancestors at war. They have no writing system, but instead wear their history on their clothes.
This clothing of Gejia women has developed from local legend: The ancestor of Gejia people used to be a valiant general. The emperor presented him with a red fringe hat for his achievements in battle. The general passed the hat to his daughter, to have his descendants remember the honor, and this became distinctive of Gejia folk costumes.
Gejia people also believe they are descendants of Houyi (后羿), an archery hero who shot down 9 suns in the sky. On their costumes, the red fringe hat symbolizes the sun, the silver loop on the neck is the bow, the silver hairpin is the arrow, and the tippet is the armor.
Read here the story of Houyi and his wife Chang’e.
Like other Miao groups, the Gejia people are fond of singing, dancing and drinking. Visitors to other Miao villages are often welcomed with 12 small portions of blocking-the-way wine, but in Matang, only one cup of wine is customary, because in local custom, eating is more important than drinking.
Since fewer travelers visit Matang, local people treasure every visitor who comes. Although you’ll only have one cup of wine, local people’s largesse will be fulsome. A local girl will hold the cup high, before pouring the wine into your mouth, symbolizing that you are an honored guest and the friendship will last forever.
If you visit during festival-time, you may be fortunate enough to witness a cultural performance, including lusheng dances (lusheng are reed-pipe instruments), bench dances, welcoming songs, ancient songs, wine songs and love songs.
Read about some interesting Guizhou ethnic minority customs.
Gejia people live a secluded life in this undeveloped village. How have they managed to survive from generation to generation? The answer is their crafts.
Gejia people are skilled in batik, weaving, embroidery and silversmithing, especially in batik (a kind of dyed wax painting). Although the village itself is not famous, the batik art work from here has been exhibited abroad, including in America, Japan, Canada and Mexico.
There is no draft or fixed pattern in batik processing. Each pattern comes from careful observation of nature, from the ancestors or from imagination. Favorite patterns include the sun, clouds, animals, plants, and geometric shapes. A combination of patterns from nature and geometry is a feature of Gejia batik.
The Production Process for Gejia Batik:
Gejia batik work has been a manual craft since ancient times. It may take weeks or even months to finish a piece of work.
In the past, local girls started learning traditional handicrafts when they were 4 or 5 years old, and made all their own clothes, including their wedding dress, by hand. Along with the social progress of recent decades, this tradition has faded, for girls now have the chance to go to school. Today, the number of people who master this traditional craft is diminishing.
OK, let’s pause here with the lengthy narration. Now it’s your turn to experience this charming craft! Travel to Matang, and have the chance to learn batik from a local master, and to create your own batik work. If you are interested, just let us know.
It is better to travel with a guide, for he/she will tell you more about the history and culture of the village. Your guide will be helpful when you want to taste some local flavors or try to learn how to make batik.
Matang is not commercialized, and not much developed. These features are attractive, but sometimes mean limited services and infrastructure (for example, in regard to toilets). The situation has improved in recent years, but you’d better lower your expectations.
If you wish, you may buy some handicrafts sold by local ladies (but there is NO forced shopping). The goods may be expensive (RMB 200–300 for a batik handkerchief or scarf), but they are all made by hand and it often takes a long time to create a piece of work, so the price is still reasonable. Ask your guide to help you to bargain!
Matang is a place for remaining aloof from the world. The villagers’ life and art still reflect ancient ways. It may be a good opportunity for you to pay a visit here before other large groups of tourists. Travel with China Highlights, and you will have a chance to make your own Gejia batik.
You may reference some itineraries: