Mountain feats of the sisterhood

By Fang Aiqing | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-16 12:08
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Dechen county, with an average altitude of more than 3,000 meters above sea level and which consists of a collection of snow mountains, glaciers, canyon, meadow and lakes, has kept abundant species and is a representative of Yunnan province's rich biodiversity.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Among the many academics committed to protecting biodiversity and tackling climate issues is, Yin, 45, a researcher at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, who is from the Bai ethnic group and whose wife is an ethnic Tibetan. He is one of few people who have entered the field by observing the traditional cultural legacy of ethnic groups in China.

In Jiabi village the Sorority's counterpart for men is called the Arrow Association.

The original goal of both organizations was to organize and raise funds for village entertainment, and it later branched out to provide public services such as road building and clearing.

The Sorority was founded more than 20 years ago, and the values that the Arrow Association espouses have been around for many decades, being passed down through the generations. It was only after the Sorority was founded that the Arrow Association became more of a formal group.

The two organizations support each other with labor and funds, said Renchen Phuntsok, whose wife Choszom has been in charge of the Sorority for more than a decade. She speaks only Tibetan, and her husband interpreted for her when she spoke to China Daily.

Apart from Choszom, six other women, each from one of the village's 30 families, take turns shouldering the responsibility of things such as organizing group events, bookkeeping and handling money.

The members help each other arrange weddings and funerals and build their houses, the latter of which may take several years. As they do all of these things they are obliged to follow rules such as wearing traditional Tibetan attire during festivals and rituals. Great store is also put by punctuality, and anyone who is late for an event is fined.

Yin went to the village 15 years ago to do research on his doctoral thesis, on the Tibetan tradition of polyandry, in which a woman has more than one husband. He lived with Renchen Phuntsok's family and in busy times helped them with the farm work.

He also encouraged villagers to carefully note the characteristics of the local environment with their own eyes and ears. In so doing they were able to record even the subtlest changes in nature over half a century.

In groups, men focused mainly on climate change, natural disasters and building traditional dwellings that requires using natural resources, and women worked on assessing forest fungus resources and controlling the excessive collection of matsutake, or pine mushroom.

The project was carried out under the auspices of the Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge in Kunming, for which Yin served as a project assistant when the project began. He is now director of the center's project management department.

He recalls the first years in the village when the center helped villagers build irrigation systems and install plumbing and gave them financial support so they could buy and install solar water heaters. In that enterprise the women gave full play to their forte of being able to identify high-quality products and beat down the prices that suppliers were asking.

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