The Basha people have a distinctive style of dress. The men wear short black jackets with round copper buttons that fasten on the left and black straight trousers. Women wear black jackets that fasten down the front with short pleated skirts embellished with colorful batiks and embroideries. Regardless of age or gender, the garments of all Miao residents of Basha are made from an indigo shade of hand-woven fabric resembling watered gauze. It is dyed in the juice of Baphicacanthus cusia leaves. Eggwhite is added to make it rain-proof, giving it a leathery quality. The fabric sometimes appears to glisten, due perhaps to being tossed into vats of dye over and over again rather than washed.
The distinctive hairstyle of "hugun."
Men in Basha go to great pains to maintain their distinctive hairstyle. It is achieved by shaving off all hair other than that on the top of the head with a sickle and coiling it into a chignon, or “hugun,” as it is called in the Miao language. Legend has it that this distinct characteristic is the legacy of Chi You, a mythical warrior from ancient times and ancestor of the Miao ethnic group. By the time they can speak, all Miao boys know that their “hugun” signifies masculinity and strength. Men consequently wear them for life, and have done so for generations. Those we saw, however, all wore head scarves. We understood that only children taking part in folk performances openly display their “hugun.”
Locals told us that their lives are carefree thanks to their ancestors’ wise choice of this resource-rich place laden with trees as a home. As the Basha people worship trees they do not log them unless absolutely necessary. Besides flourishing forests, Basha is also ample in another local specialty – bamboo – which can be seen everywhere. Many villages are built amid the peaceful surroundings of bamboo groves. When one of us suggested, partly in jest, that we dig up some fresh bamboo shoots to take home, the locals made it clear that this would amount to sacrilege.
We saw in the village the charred remains and ashes of a burnt-down house. It brought home just how susceptible to fire hazards this ancient wooden village is. A single spark could destroy its occupants’ entire cultural legacy.