COSTUMED MIAO WOMEN, seen from the back, are ornamented with silver plaques; their towering horn headdresses are worn during dancing. Photograph by Pam Najdowski.
Guzang Miao Festival

Ceremonial Silver




Jolted to consciousness by ear-piercing firecrackers and the squealing of terrified pigs, I was amazed to find I had slept soundly through the freezing night in a board-hard large single bed shared with two other women. For two years my Miao friends had talked about joining their families during the Guzang Festival, held every twelve years in the Miao Minority villages of southeast Guizhou Province of China. My bed companions were Mu Chun, my twenty-something Miao friend, and a Han Chinese researcher of Chinese Minority cultures, a stranger who had been welcomed by the family. We were soon up to observe the early morning sacrificing of pigs on special wooden tables in the terraces and walkways of the surrounding village homes. The first fruits of the sacrifice were placed on the altar of the ancestors following another round of fireworks to make certain they knew their arrival was anticipated. The first meal served was large hunks of belly fat topped with pig liver and kidney with a side of sticky rice. All villages welcomed their guests with the same treats on this second day of the festival. Blood pudding soon followed as part of an organ-heavy noon meal.

Guzang, which is a Chinese word for the Miao festival, can be translated to mean “Water Buffalo Offal Fertility” Festival. The Miao, with a 2000 census population of 7.9 million, are the fifth largest of the fifty-six official minorities or nationalities recognized by the Chinese government. The majority of the Miao live in Guizhou, with the southeastern part as their heartland. Chen Along, a Miao tour guide, writes on his website that the Miao name for the festival is Neniu meaning “to kill buffalo to worship ancestors.” Along’s village of Upper Langde held the Guzang Festival in 2004, but now it was the turn of four other villages in the highland areas near the border of Taijiang and Leishan Counties. I was particularly interested in experiencing the festivities in the paired hilltop villages of Kongbai and Maliao, the home villages of silversmithing families I had worked with since 2003. In these villages nearly all of the men are silversmiths and have been for generations. Due to the isolation of the villages, young men like Mu Chun’s father became itinerant silversmiths, traveling by foot to different Miao villages throughout the area. Now most of the silversmiths have left their mountaintop homes to live in the regional city of Kaili, Guiyang or even Beijing in order to be closer to their markets. This de facto diaspora, which seemed more widespread in Kongbai than Maliao, made their Guzang homecoming especially poignant.




More Guzang Miao Festival images

Pam Najdowksi first met Miao minority artisans as a newly-minted international school counselor in China in 2003. Drawn to their villages in the mountainous regions of Guizhou Province, she has made fifteen subsequent visits to the area, including the sixteen-day visit described in her article. Since 2005 she assisted the Miao in bringing their work to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. She also sells fine antique and vintage pieces from many different minority groups at her gallery in Traveler’s Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she lives with her silversmithing husband.



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