Population and Distribution
The Tujia ethnic group, having a population of around eight million, mainly lives in compact communities in the Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in western Hunan Province and Enshi Tujia Autonomous Prefecture in Hubei Province. There are also some scattered in Shizhu, Xiushan, Qianjiang and other counties in Sichuan Province.
They called themselves Bizika, which means native dwellers. Although their name suggests that they are natives, their exact origin is still uncertain. Some people trace their ancestry to the ancient Ba people while others claim they come from the Wuman, who moved to western Hunan from Guizhou Province. There are also some that believe that they came from Jiangxi Province at the end of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). The only thing we can be sure of is that the Tujia ethnic group had come into being by the early Five Dynasties period, around the year 910.
They have their own language which belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan language family. They have no written script and the language of the Han people is in common usage. The language of the Miao ethnic group is also used.
The area inhabited by the Tujia people is mostly highland with an altitude ranging between 400 and 1500 meters. Blessed with a mild climate and rich waters, this area provides ideal conditions for the development of forestry, agriculture, fishery and stock rising. Tujia people grow a variety of crops including wet rice, wheat, maize, and sweet potatoes. Other profitable cash crops include sugar beets, ramie, lacquer, cotton, tea, etc. This area also abounds in various timber resources, rare medicinal herbs, minerals, aquatic products and giant salamanders.
Women are good at weaving. Xilankapu, also known as Knitting Floral Bedclothes, is the masterpiece of the Tujia crafts. Woven on a simple wooden machine, this kind of brocade, thick and durable, simple but gorgeous, is reputed to be one of the three most famous brocades in Southwestern-China. According to the custom of Tujia nationality, the girls will start learning knitting with colorful threads when at the age of eleven or twelve. Young ladies should have their own Xilankapu as dowries at the time of marriage.
They normally have four meals per day during the busy season and two during the idle seasons. Their staple foods include rice and corn. Bacon, glutinous rice cake and rice ball are their favorite food. In the past, the sweet potato was taken as the main food but today it is only used as the preserved food for the winter. They like to eat chili, peppers and spice. They also like drinking and the wine they use is mostly home-produced.
The Tujia people have usually built their villages at the foot of a mountain or on the lower slopes near a water source. The members in a village belong to the same clan and their village is named after the surname of the clan.
Square in shape, the Houses of Tujia people are made of wood or a combination of wood, stone, and brick. Houses are usually two stories, using the ground floor for storage of supplies and livestock and the second floor as family living quarters. The central room on the second floor is where ancestors are enshrined and worshipped. This is also the place for family activities and entertaining guests. The bedrooms are often on the left of the central room while the kitchen is on the right.
The Tujia costumes are made of cloth they weave with their own hands. They like the colors black and blue the best, using bright colorful embroidery on the hems and scarves.
Traditionally, women like to wear loose jackets and long skirts. Their jackets are always buttoned down on the left side being trimmed with lace and having short, broad sleeves. They often coil their hair up and wear a cap or wrap it within a cloth. They often wear various ornaments such as necklaces, earrings, and wrist and ankle bracelets.
Men wear short jackets with many buttons in front and wind red or white cloths about their heads. The traditional hand-woven xitong cloth with intricate designs is the main material used for clothing.
The Tujia people have various beliefs which include shamanism, Taoism, ancestral worship, and earlier beliefs involving ghosts and evil spirits.
Besides which the Tujia people also have their unique White Tiger Worship. The white tiger occupies an important status in the mind of Tujia people and the they call themselves Offspring of White Tiger. As the story goes, in remote antiquity, Bawuxiang, the forefather of the Tujia ethnic group was chosen as the headman of the Wuxing tribe, popularly known as the Granary Monarch. The Granary Monarch led his men to Yanyang by water and killed the cruel goddess of the Yanshui River. Then they settled down and the Granary Monarch gained the respect and esteem of his people. Later, the Granary Monarch died and his soul turned into a white tiger and was raised to the skies. From then on Tujia people deified the white tiger and piously worship it every now and then. Nowadays a statue of a white tiger can be found in the main hall of each family.
They are good at singing and dancing, and they use song and dance to tell epic sagas and creation myths, expressing love and grief.
The Tujia have a popular dance named Baishou dance (Hand dance). It is a traditional mass collective performance of the Tujia people. It has a history of over 500 years and was originally a dance of triumph. This dance, now with its seventy ritual gestures that represent war, hunting, farming and other aspects of life, is popular at the New Year's festival, the Lunar New Year and other festive occasions.
Another popular dance is the Maogusi dance. Maogusi means grandpa in Chinese. It is an old dance for commemorating the exploits of ancestors. The dance often needs 15-16 participators, of which the head is an elder called Babu Father and the others being juniors. When they perform this dance, the body of the members, including their faces, will be packaged with straw, couch grass and leaves. There are five plaits made of palm leaves on their head with four of the plaits bent down slightly and hanging from four sides.
Maogusi dance is unique in its forms and contents. Local dialects will be used through the performance and the appearances of the actors are funny and humorous. They advance and retreat in quick short steps, or go down on their knees and shake their bodies, or jump and swing from right to left, quivering all over. They shake their heads and shrug and the couch grass rustles. This is in imitation of the straightforward manners of the ancient people.
The Maogusi dance often lasts six nights. It is an integration of singing, dancing and drama, and it is a native drama for deity. This form is seldom seen in other nationalities and is called the Living Fossil of the ancient culture.
The Diaonian Meeting, Zhongwu Holiday and Guozu Festival are the three most important holidays the Tujia people celebrate in a year.
Diaonian Festival, also named Gannian Festival, is the Spring Festival of the Tujia people. It comes one day earlier than the New Year's Eve of the Han people and is the most ceremonious festival of the Tujia people. During this festival the people will carry out many activities celebrating the festival. These activities will last several days, perhaps even more than ten days.