Sui. Quiet village, rare script

To catch a glimpse of Sui life, I hitchhiked from Congjiang via Rongjiang to a small village called Bameng.

Out of hundreds of villages I have visited in China, this was definitely one of the most tranquil ones. Swipe down slowly.

Sui (or Shui) is a small ethnic group that lives in southern Guizhou. Their population reaches just half a million. You can compare that number to two other minorities I wrote about: the Dong (Kam) at 3 million and the Miao at 9-10 million. The Sui culture bears similarities to both these neighbors, but more so to the Dong. From linguistical perspective, the Sui are sometimes grouped together with them as “Kam–Sui peoples.” Both Sui and Dong languages belong to the same branch of Kra–Dai family (while Miao is classified in a completely separate Hmong–Mien family of tongues).

Not numerous, yet, they have their own language and traditions: myths and beliefs, fesivals and a calendar. They even have their own script! Shuǐshū 水书 (水書) , as it is known, is made of logograms. Next to characters borrowed (often mirrored or twisted) from the Chinese writing system, it includes some original symbols and simple pictographs – for example drawings of animals. Only shamans are familiar with the script and common people never use it.

The ethnic group’s name in Chinese, Shuǐ 水, means “water,” but their own pronunciation is described as being closer to 睢, “suǐ.” That’s why the spelling “Sui” is often used in English.

Most of the Sui live in Sandu Shui Autonomous County 三都水族自治县, but some are scattered around other localities. The town that serves as the county seat is not a big place, but because of its special status, Sandu 三都 can be easily descibed as their national “capital.”

Here, I was able to check galleries and shops with interesting products, including local teas and artifacts.

Jiuqian Liquor 九阡酒 is made since ancient times and plays an important role in Sui culture. According to legends, the alcohol-making knowledge was trasferred to them by nine fairies (hence it’s other name, Jiuxian 九仙). It is brewed from rice – mostly glutinous rice, spring water and a special fermentation starer. To make the latter, dozens of wild plants are foraged. One scientific article I found on the internet lists more than one hundred of species collected for this purpose. The starter-making knowledge is handed over from mother to daughter.

Some buildings in the town are decorated with the Sui script – a really nice touch.

For the last paragraphs let’s refocus on the hamlet I mentioned in the opening of this text. Bameng village 八蒙村 is part of the Xinghua Shui Ethnic Township 兴华水族乡, which is actually located not in Sandu County but just behind the border in the neighboring Rongjiang County 榕江县.

Bameng sits at the other part of the river than the main road and there is no bridge, so I had to hire a boat to get there. There was also an old lady wearing a blue-and-black top and a white headdress – the traditional everyday Sui costume. We waited for the ferryman and crossed together.

Most ethnic settlements you visit duing traveling in Guizhou are more or less touristified. Entrance to some is ticketed, there are restaurants, shops and ethnic shows. It doesn’t always deprive them of authenticity, but it certainly doesn’t add to it either.

Here, in this beautiful remote village, life is unspoiled. The stilt wooden houses silently await their dwellers to come back from the fields, bedsheeds dry in the air, corn cobs rest on the balconies. Life goes on.


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