400 years old, Wengding is reputed to be the best-preserved village in all of China.
After the Monihei festival, we went to Wengding (翁丁村). This village has the privilege of being the best preserved Wa village in China and it is even said to be the last real tribal village left in China.
From Cangyuan to Wengding there are 40 km away. It takes about 45 minutes to reach Wengding from Cangyuan. The taxi costs 250 – 300RMB depending on how long you are in the village and how well you negotiate with the taxi driver.
The buffalo heads hanging from the trees indicate that you have arrived in the village. In the past, human heads were hung (from enemies or criminals) but this practice was banned during the early days of the People’s Republic of China. Today they have been replaced by something “less sadistic”.
These heads used to be used for sacrifices to the God of Rice so that the crops would be fertile and abundant. The buffalo head, in addition, for the Wa, is a symbol of wealth and abundance.
Entrance to Wengding
To enter the village you have to pay 50Rmb. At the entrance, about 10 people from the Wa ethnic minority sing a welcome song and when they have finished singing they mark your forehead with a dot of black ink. They all wear their traditional costumes. The men dress completely in black and the women wear black dresses with red lines. Most of them wear colored headscarves and many are smoking pipes.
People of the Wa ethnic minority, unlike ordinary Chinese, think that the darker the skin of someone, the more attractive that person will be. The blacker, the more handsome the man or the more beautiful the woman. That’s why they always wear black and, also, that they celebrate Monihei, the mud festival that consists of smearing themselves with black.
Just before crossing the main entrance you can’t help but think that Wengding will probably be another one of those beautiful villages in China but destroyed by tourism with shops everywhere. But once you get a little deeper you realize that it’s not. It’s a very real village that probably hasn’t changed in decades.
What’s the village like?
The village is 400 years old and is surrounded by trees and mountains. The Wa have always believed that in order to protect the safety of the village you have to cut down the minimum amount of forest, only what is necessary for the construction of houses, stables… That is why it is surrounded by lush vegetation.
There are 98 families and a total of 400 people. All the roads in the village are still made of earth and the walls separating one house from another are made of piles of stones. There are also fences made of bamboo and at most some concrete stables.
The houses are made of wood and bamboo and have thatched roofs. They consist of two floors: The lower floor, which is for the barn and the stable. It is usually an open earth space. The upper floor, on the other hand, is used as a family home and the comforts, as one might suppose, are just, although sufficient.
Walking through the village you can see in almost all the houses chickens and pigs running around the lower floor or cows and buffaloes enclosed in the stables. Children playing in the street, inventing games with what they find out there and older women smoking pipes while talking about god knows what.
From Wengding to Kunming
We were walking quietly through its dirt streets, taking pictures, videos and enjoying so much peace and so much flora and fauna. We stayed a little more than an hour that flew past us.
Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to visit the village because at night we had to return to Kunming. Since the outward journey bus trip took 24-hours, we decided to return by plane from Cangyuan to Kunming, which only takes 45 minutes.
Wengding will remain in my memory as one of the most authentic and beautiful villages I have ever been to. My only wish is to hope that if I ever return, everything will still be as I found it. Though I doubt it.
Do not regret growing older, it’s a privilege denied to many.