Nothing does exotic like China. Even 700 years after its 'discovery' and decades of economic growth, this enormous Asian country has lost none of its mystique. Known far and wide for its cosmopolitan cities like Beijing and Shanghai, China offers limitless scope for exploration through its urban and rural landscapes. It may come as a surprise to you, but did you know that in the deep south of China there exists a village of real-life Rapunzels?
A two-hour drive from Southern China’s Guilin city, the quaint village of Huangluo Yao resides on the banks of the Jinsha River. Nestled amid the magnificent Longji Rice Terraces, this mountainous and remote place was nearly unreachable until 2002 when the Chinese government decided to launch a 'tourism reform' programme.
Huangluo Yao is home to the Red Yao people, an indigenous community originating from the Qin Dynasty. As a matter of fact, the word ‘Red’ got added to their commune because of the traditional hand-woven red jackets and shirts that women wear during festivals and carnivals.
With a mere population of 600 tribe members making up 78 families, Huangluo Yao offers picturesque views of its lush surrounds. The village’s most famous trait, however, is the long, pitch-black hair of the women, who are famous for having Rapunzel-like long hair.
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For the women of this village, hair is their most prized possession. In fact, the place has its name imprinted in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the ‘World’s Longest Hair Village.’ It is normal for girls to have silky black hair that is up to 5-feet long (and weigh 2 pounds!), while only a handful have hair over six feet. The longest hair recorded in the village was seven feet long in 2004.
The Yao women have proudly passed on this tradition of growing hair from generation to generation. The secret behind their lustrous raven-black long hair is the simple beauty regime that the natives follow and have been practising for years. Every day, they will wash their hair in the river water but on the third or fourth day, they use a special concoction to rinse their hair with. This “concoction” is made of fermented rice water boiled with pomelo skins and tea plant seed oil. The women first rinse their manes with this special “shampoo” and then use a wooden comb to spread the solution evenly from root to tips. This routine is said to be the reason for their no-grey, pitch-black hair.
For the women of this village, long hair is a symbol of longevity, so the longer the length of your hair is, the longer you are likely to live. In a unique yet strange tradition, the Yao women only cut their hair once in their lifetime and that too, when they turn 18. Coco Chanel said that ‘a woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life’. Cutting hair here is a rite of passage, implying the girl is of age and ready to marry. The bundle of cut hair is not thrown away; rather, it is kept and tucked back into their hair bun after they become mothers. This weaved hair bun serves to distinguish married and unmarried women.
The hair also plays an important role in the indication of the social status of a woman. The unmarried Yao women can be characterised by wearing a black turban, as single women are not allowed to show their hair in public. As a bizarre tradition up until the 1980s, no man was allowed to see a woman’s hair until her wedding day when her husband unveils her beautiful locks. If he does, regardless of his caste or community, he would have to stay with the girl’s parents for three years as their son-in-law. Thankfully, that tradition got chucked off. If you see a woman’s hair simply wrapped around her head that means she’s married but has no kids. Finally, if you see a woman wearing a bun on her head, it means she’s married with kids.
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Huangluo village has now become a popular tourist destination. The village even has its own theatre for tourists, where the Red Yao women, in their tradition red costumes, perform folk dances and songs and narrate the history of their community. Don’t get surprised if they ask you to visit their home or offer you a cup of tea as they are extremely hospitable and affectionate.