Category: Honghe Hani.

About Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

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honghe hani rice terrace#1

Since the seventh century, the Hani ancestors who came from the north and went through long-term migration finally found their real home on the south bank of the Hong River. The vast Ailao Mountain area accepted the “most isolated ethnic group in the world” and granted them the dense forest and clean water sources. The Hani ancestors also felt thankful and revered for nature. Among the towering mountains, they built their hometown, reclaimed terraces and cultivated rice by means of enduring disposition, unyielding spirit and survival wisdom. After more than 1,300 years, the Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces stretching at the southern segment of Ailao Mountain and covering more than 1,000 square kilometers is finally formed, and it is reputed as the wonder of farming civilization..

The Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is a living cultural landscape which engages in the production of one the world’s most important crop—rice. This landscape is comprised of tremendous rice terraces, unique vernacular architecture as well as the forest on the top of the mountain and the intermountain water system. It is a perfect product resulting from the long-term interaction of man and nature.

As the outstanding response of human beings to the hard mountainous environment, Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces has witnessed the human beings’ adaptability and optimistic creative spirit, and also continuously declares the tough survival will of aborigines to the world, and establishes and maintains their common values and self-identification.

The scope of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

honghe hani core and buffer zones

Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is located at the south bank of Hong River in southwest border of China within Yuanyang County, Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province.

Located at the eastern border of Hengduan mountain chain, this region has huge and high mountains and deep and vast valleys. The climate here belongs to the subtropical monsoon climate. However, due to almost 2000 meter elevation drop from top to bottom of the mountain, climate is greatly different at different elevations. On the summit of mountains, there are dense forests but no lakes. The international Hong River running through China and Vietnam passes at the foot of mountains.

However, the flatland which is suitable for farming is very narrow and small in river valley. This vigorous and magnificent mountainous area is difficult for human beings to live and seems impossible to raise large populations.

After long-term migration from the northwest of ancient China to this mountainous area, Hani, the ancient and unique ethnic group has successfully noticed the water-saving function of forests and thick soil deposits in this area. Depending on their tenacious and tough character and the respect to nature, Hani people have created a large-scale and harmonious style of living and production and a unique cultural landscape system being characterized by the four element system (forest-water system village-terrace) in this harsh mountainous region.

four element system

Water Resources Management

Water resource is essential to rice cultivation. Hani people have developed the traditional water resources protection and management systems in the long-term farming practice, including the repair of ditches and allocation of water resources, etc. Ditches serve as an irrigation system of terraces. Hani people have been attaching great importance to the construction, repair and maintenance of ditches. They have carried out an annual repair system of ditches since the ancient times. It is a collective task to repair the ditches. In winter every year, each village would organize a largescale repair and maintenance for the ditches. In addition, all people in the irrigation area have responsibility for the repair of ditches. Generally, those finding the damage of ditches would make a repair. It is the ditch maintenance system that remains the irrigation system of the time-honored Hani Rice Terraces intact.

In order to maintain the normal operation of the irrigation system of Hani Rice Terraces, each Hani village designates a special ditch keeper, or ditch supervisor, who is democratically elected by the villagers. Every year, the villagers would collectively scratch up some rice and money as a reward for the ditch keeper. The ditch keeper would be responsible for the irrigation management, and inspection of the ditch system in the irrigation period to make sure of the smooth progress of irrigation.

In terms of the allocation of water resources, especially in the period of water resource shortage, Hani people would follow the traditional “Outoutou” and “water diversion by turns” systems. “Outoutou”: it is a water distribution system by woodcut. “Outoutou” is a transliteration from Hani language. “Ou” means water, “Toutou” means cutting marks, and “Outoutou” means to determine the water allocation by cutting marks on wood, which is a traditional unwritten folk water regulation of Hani people. Water is in outstanding demand in the spring plowing and planting season every year, so according to the irrigated area of each ditch, the owners of the rice fields covered by a ditch would determine the water amount to be irrigated for each field through joint negotiation based on the area of their own fields, and then erect a notched wood bar (or stone bar) at the junction between the ditch and field according to the sequence of the fields through which water passes. Water would flow into the terraces automatically according to different proportion from the notch, which is as water distribution by woodcut. The woodcut (or carved stone) could realize the allocation of irrigation water for the terraces in a comparatively accurate manner, which reveals the ancient experience of “relation between water level and discharge rate”. Hani people determine the allocation of water resources according to this democratic way from generation to generation. All villagers respect this traditional water regulation, thus guaranteeing the reasonable use of water.

“Water diversion by turns”: in the water shortage seasons like spring or drought season, Hani people would adopt the system of “water diversion by turns”. A ditch would be divided into several sections by the field owners through negotiation according to the irrigated area, for the purpose of irrigation from the far fields to the near ones by turns. The water inlets for those fields waiting for irrigation would be closed to guarantee the fair and efficient use of water and avoid the waste of the irrigation water.

Forest Resources Management
The forest plays an important role in conserving water sources and maintaining the ecological balance. Hani people have recognized the importance of forest since the ancient times, and they developed traditional systems for protection and management of forests. Deforestation is not allowed at any time in the head-water forests for water conservation, village woods around the villages and the Zhai Shen Lin (scared woods of the village) above the villages where the village god lives, and even the ordinary people are not allowed to enter into these forests. Those in violation of the rule will be imposed with severe sanction according to the village rules. Today, specific economic punishment means are used in most cases.

In addition, a Hani village generally has a forest keeper. The one with strong sense of responsibility and completely trusted by villagers would be elected democratically as the forest keeper. Generally, Migu would take this responsibility. Every year, the villagers would scratch up some rice and money as a reward for the forest keeper.

yuanyang rice terraces

Village Management
The management for the size of villages is also an important task for Hani people. Due to the limitation on natural conditions for rice cultivation on terraces in the mountain and deep valley regions, a village is required to be kept in a proper size in order to support the population there with the limited terraces. In addition, the too large farming radius is less favorable for farming. Therefore, a Hani village would be divided after developing to a certain scale, which is organized by Migu in the old village and determined by the villagers democratically through discussion. The site selection of the new village is very important, which has had a time-honored history and complex and special ritual. First, the sacred woods and sacred tree of the new village should be determined. Migu would take soil and over then small trees from the sacred woods of the old village to the new scared woods, representing the blood relationship between the old and new villages. The second task is to look for water source to provide sufficient water for the villagers’ daily life. After determining the sites of the sacred woods and water source, the villagers would move to the new village. They would start to build the village gate, roads and ditches, and reclaim the land and grow crops on terraces. The new village will gradually develop and become large. When the Moqiu Field (usually at the foot of the village) is built, it marks that a new village is completely set up.

Category: Honghe Hani
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