Doing Fieldwork in LJZ: Redrawing Ancient Daba Art and Hiking in the Mountains

I woke up the next morning and hung out with the children. They would leave that afternoon for school for the rest of the week. It’s sad to say, but I was going to really miss them. They are the only ones in the house that speak Mandarin, which means they are my main form of communication. While I helped the older daughter hang clothes, the young Mosuo man who hiked with me to LJZ came by. Turns out he is part of the same family! The family is split into two houses because their household became too large with more than 30 people. The young man lives in the original home.

The uncle and young man asked me to come back inside. The Uncle pulled out the art again and asked if I could copy them exactly onto a special type of paper. The young man helped translate for me. I agreed to help. The uncle then set up a table, sitting cloth, and the 100 year-old art next to the house temple on the second floor. I thanked him and started drawing, first in my sketchbook. The kids would come by and watch. The mother also came by to take a look.

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Preparing for Copying on New Tablets

After a couple hours, I finished the first tablet. Lunch was ready when I finished, so I went down to eat some vegetable soup (YUM!) and fried potato. After that I decided to go on a hike around the village. I was getting a bit restless sitting and drawing. I asked the youngest brother which way I should take. He showed me a path behind the house. I trekked along a path and went up the hill behind the village to a shrine that’s wrapped with prayer flags.

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Main Daba Shrine

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LJZ Beyond the Prayer Flags

I continued up the hill into the mountains. I wanted see what was behind the hills…I hiked and hiked and hiked. I got some good shots of LJZ. At one point, I thought I was near the top, but found myself in a clearing…in the middle of a hike near the top of the mountains? It was a bit eery. The place seemed to been untouched for years, except for the path that cut between it. I hiked a bit more around the area and then gave up trying to find a peak. I slowly started trekking back, enjoying the scenery, listening to the birds and bugs, and smelling flowers and the tall pine.

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The Small Village of LJZ

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Eerie Clearing

(Who cut the wood this high in the mountains? How long ago was it? Maybe the neighboring Yi villages cut down these trees a long time ago…the live on the mountains.)

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View of the Scenery

It took me an hour to get back, maybe in total a 3-4 hour hike. I went through the village to get back to my host’s house. I found a guesthouse and an area where they make their own electricity. The tourism industry in LJZ seems to be in its early stages. I wonder when high season is?

I got back to the house before dinner. I went back to the drawing table. Soon after, the uncle walked up, he had just finished grazing the house’s cows, to see my work. He was ecstatic! With his approval, I inked the drawings on the new paper tablets. I was happy he liked my work!

I ate dinner with him, the mother, and the grandmother. I was overall fairly silent because I don’t speak the language, except when I’d asked the uncle how to say somethings in the Mosuo language. After dinner, I decided to visit the house that was being constructed next door to see the host family’s older brother. I walked into the construction site to see men standing on a two-story tall dirt wall, continuing to compact dirt for the next layer. The brother was helping shovel the dirt and hang it onto a levie system that would be lifted to the men on the dirt wall. I was amazed at the intricacy of the construction site!

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Men Working on the Wall

I came a bit late, so they were finishing up. I was invited for dinner and ate with the men. I felt a bit awkward being the only woman, as well as being a foreigner in an all Mosuo household. I toasted to people and smiled most of the night. I talked to the man next to me who explained the importance of the shrine I visited that day. He said it is a place for people to light incense and pray. During the Spring Festival, the entire village goes up there to pray for the well being of their families as well as everyone who lives in LJZ. I then ate a second dinner, which consisted of pork, radish soup, cornmeal and Chinese kimchi.

The older brother walked me home. He’s really friendly and willing to answer any of my questions. But when we approached the house, he said that outside he can answer questions, but inside our relationship is more formal. I understood and stopped treating him so friendly.  He got me candles for my room and wished me a goodnight. It was an eventful first day at the village!

I didn’t get done what I came here to do, which is to figure out about ethnic tensions in the area, but I did learn about Daba art and more Mosuo language. I feel like fieldwork is going to be more like this…you learn so much, but not of anything you were expecting!

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