Category: China, 2012

Water Buffalo Fights and Dances

October 31

I’m trying to post this from a wifi hot spot on a bus in Ghizou, so if they get posted out of order and/or without photos, please excuse me, and check back another time to check for photos.

Halloween. Looking forward to grandchildren photos, in costume, though it may take some time before I can access them. Hope that the day is not marred by the effects of hurricane Sandy, as we’ve been hearing if it’s devastating impact, Evan told me in Beijing that his 37-year old sister, Catherine, was dressing up as a binder of women, ala Mitt.

Early departure, and breakfast at a restaurant outside the hotel. Small, open store/restaurant. Sit on plastic stools, bowl of broth with noodles, add scrambled eggs. Surprisingly tasty. Walked around and missed photo ops because left camera on bus. Won’t make that mistake again. Was able to take some pictures on my iPhone.

Drive on to our first hill tribe of Ghuizo experience, a festival, a hay rice harvest festival. No set date, doesn’t happen. Festival today is for the amusement of the ancestral spirit Will be water buffalo fights, competition, but not for money. Two villages, Zhanghan and Baiso, at least 200 families each, plus others will come to see. People are short skirt black Miao, with tin embroidery. In minority areas, people are allowed two children.

We travel along Chiang Shui Jiang, the clean river, with villages on hillside. Boats fishing in river. Very overcast again. Scene is reminiscent of hills and river ofGuilin,where we went on our first trip. Intoxicating fishing, substance put in water that dazes fish and makes them easier to catch.

Nevada talks about photography, both philosophy and technique. Fascinating, but shows how little thought I’ve given to both elements. Hearing about it, though, and having time to think about it and put it into action should help. Maybe.

Long drive, most of it on paved, but rather bumpy roads, through hilly, scenic country enshrouded in very overcast weather (and, therefor, not really scenic). After a couple hours, though, the sun begins to come out, then emerges in earnest. Nevada sees the sun as creating problems for us as photographers, since it will create very contrasty scenes and shadows on people’s faces. The road turns to dirt and progress is slow.

Eventually, after more than three hours, we reach an open area in the village where many have begun to gather on slopes surrounding a large, basically oval open area. The crowd ranges from old men with great faces to young women and children, very few of them in costume at this point.

We climb up a hill to a school, where we have lunch in one of the rooms. Though a Chinese spread is available, most of us opt for cheese and crackers and peanut butter. We leave stuff in the school room (our baggage travels in a separate truck each day), and climb down the hill around the open area for the “bull fights.” Thousands of firecrackers going off, we later hear “to honor the bulls.” The bulls are actually water buffaloes and there are no matadors, the fights being between pairs of these huge beasts, who lock horns, butt heads, push against one another and try to injure the other by twisting the head and catching the other with a horn. After a period, men rope a leg of each buffalo and try to pull them a part. Generally, many men are required on each bull, giving the appearance of a tug of war, though the bulls are not attached. Once separated, the men try to gain control of the bull by slipping a rope or pole through the nose ring on the bull. This can by quite a trick, and not infrequently the bulls escape and run unpredictably through a quickly scattering crowd. We do not see anyone injured, though certainly this must happen from time to time. I view this as a bit more excitement than optimum.



After watching for an hour or so, our group walks to the village, which turns out to be a pretty decent hike, up and down hill. The village is very picturesque, with wooden structures topped by roofs of different colors. On our way to the village we encounter many women and children, heading back to the open area for dances. We visit the very comfortable home of the head man, with a living room with TV. We are, we are told, the first foreigners ever to visit the village, which I assume is true. Certainly there are none in evidence all day. We’ve worked up a sweat from the hike by the time we return to the open oval, where the water buffalo fights are still going on.


When they finally stop, the dancing begins. Seven men with very long, wooden instruments with poles play a continuous and repetitive, but not unpleasant, tune, as villagers dance around and around in a circle. The central characters are young, unmarried girls who wear elaborate embroidered costumes and large silver necklaces and headdresses. Others circle, too, though, old men, young men, and fathers and mothers, carrying costumed young children (in a sense, appropriate, for us, to this Halloween day). I try to use panning, as Nevada explained it to us on the bus, but get mainly blur. This is not surprising, as she says that mainly it does not work, and you are fortunate to get one good shot. Despite probably forty or more tries, I was not fortunate. I also discovered some basics of positioning, as I was standing in a position at which it was difficult to get anything with the dancers’ faces, until a spotted Nevada and a few others standing at a more strategic position.



Bus ride to a guest house, where I lug the suitcase up to my third floor room. The room itself looks clean and okay. The bathroom, however, is not The Peninsula. No light, a non-Western toilet (hole) and no shower to speak of. But it’s only one night.

Download photos to the iPad, which takes quite a while, then down to dinner. Not very hungry, so just take some eggs and greens in my bowl to go with several cups of weak beer, topped off by some chocolate candy that Nevada passes around.

Back upstairs, I look through my photos. With my now-elevated standards, I don’t have anything great, though I do have quite a number that would be okay for the old me/photographer. A very fascinating day. Nevada used the word “authentic,” and I think that captures it. A privilege to be able to experience something like this.

4 comments to Water Buffalo Fights and Dances

  • Pat Hemmens

    When I first read “bull fighting” I thought it was the disgusting Spanish variety – glad it wasn’t! Your photos look pretty good to me – I trust they weren’t the ones you took with your phone! I’m impressed that you’re getting wifi in fairly remote areas – wifi but no shower, what a world we live in!

  • Aaron Freeman

    Love the bulls! Thanks

  • Eve Lecvine

    I love the faces. Still think your photos look great.

  • Jan Baker

    The photos look great – no apologies needed; they, and your notes, are the next best thing to being there!



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