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Xinjie — Yuanyang Town / 2



When studying Women status in Hani society, Wang Qinghua found out that the Hani say, ‘Women do not plough, and men do not carry firewood’. The prohibition against women ploughing is, of course, part of the culture of plough agriculture. But the injunction against men carrying firewood is carried over from the swidden system of earlier time. In areas where the Hani still carry on swidden agriculture women normally return from the swidden fields laden with firewood and vegetables (besides spinning thread as they walk back), while men usually come back emptyhanded. They carry largely symbolic hunting rifles. The Hani of the Ailao Mountains (Yuanyang included), who have changed to terraced agriculture, continued with the same prohibition against men collecting firewood.

As one would expect, it is the Hani women who are the main collectors of wild plants and have a correspondingly good understanding of the usage, taste, properties and functions of each kind of edible plant. Similarly, given their almost sole responsibility for looking after the animals, it is the women who are knowledgeable about the wild plants used as fodder.

Despite being the repositories of important part of local knowledge regarding the use of forest resources, women are not involved in community-level management of these forests. For example, women are not involved in the traditional selection of a ‘dragon head’ (leading family) to be responsible for the care of the sacred grove or ‘dragon tree forest’. Such exclusion from traditional, community management roles carries over into contemporary village council. The effects of such exclusion of women from community councils on the efficiency of forest management or on production remains to be investigated.

Traditionally, there have been special watchmen in every Hani village, and every headman was responsible for the preservation of the forest. No cutting of the ‘dragon tree forest’ community forest, scenic forest or water resource forest was allowed. Very severe punishments were imposed for breaking these restrictions — the offenders usually had to plant trees, sweep the village, construct road, etc. While men could enter the ‘dragon tree forests’ for ritual purposes, women are not allowed to enter them.

According to Pierre Walter, the discrimination against women in the Hani is very severe. So long as there are women, men never cook and feed pigs. Men are more free than women. They seldom help women to weed… Women are not worth mentioning in men’s eyes. They usually say: ‘Crab is not meat, women are not human beings.’

(Source: Globalization and indigenous people in Asia)


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