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Keeping or cutting tradition

Updated: 2012-04-05 16:14

Women rinse their long hair in a river in Huangluo Hongyao village, Longsheng county, in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Fans of Rapunzel may be amazed to find out that she is not only real, but there's more than one of her and they're all Chinese. In Huangluo Hongyao village, deep in the mountains of Longsheng county in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, women are famous for their ancestral tradition of wearing their hair long.

Hongyao refers to ethnic Yao people who wear red (hong) clothes.

There are 82 households, comprising more than 400 villagers, and they share the same surname, Pan. About 80 out of the 120 women have hair that is more than 1.4 meters long. The longest is nearly 2.1 meters.

"Long hair means longevity, wealth and good fortune for Hongyao women. The longer one's hair is, the more fortunate one will be," says Pan Hongmei, 46, a restaurant owner whose hair coils around her head, with a big bun above her forehead.

"When she combs her hair once, her hair will become dark and shiny. She makes up her face and dresses gaudily for her lover. When she combs her hair twice, her hair becomes thick and shiny. She and her husband will love each other forever," Pan sings, quoting the lyrics from the traditional Long Hair Song.

Pan Hongmei, 46, coils her hair around her head.

When a Hongyao girl reaches 18, she usually has an ear-length haircut, keeps the cut hair and adds it when she coils her hair later. This is the only time Hongyao women are allowed to cut their hair. They also collect hair that falls out and add it to their hair when they give birth.

Before marriage, they wear a headscarf because, traditionally, only the bridegrooms can see their hair. Married women don't wear scarves and have a different coiled hairstyle after having a child. They usually put a wooden or silver comb on the top of their hair, so that they can comb whenever they want.

"It takes us two or three minutes to coil our hair without any hairpins. We use hair to tie up our hair, turning it around our heads two or three times to make a bun. When I had to change my hairstyle after giving birth, I spent several days at home learning the new hairstyle," Pan says.

"I wash my 1.5-meter-long hair every three days and rarely use a hair dryer because it dries out. The secret to keep one's hair dark and clean is to wash with the water used to clean rice. It's a natural shampoo and hair conditioner."

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