Hainan's Baicha Village: the best-preserved homeland of the Li

By Li Xiang / HICN / Updated: 15:14,12-December-2021

Located in Dongfang City on the western coast of Hainan Island, Baicha Village boasts 81 of the best-preserved boat-shaped thatched cottages on the  island. The ancient village was home to the native Li people, masters of the ancient art of Li Brocade, who still follow their traditional customs today.

Surrounded by lushly forested hills, the village resembles an idyllic traditional Chinese landscape painting. Traditional boat-shaped houses lie nestled between banana trees and coconut palms, looking like flipped over boats, just as their name suggests.

These houses feature long, low horizontal lines, which helps them to withstand typhoons. The walls are made of bamboo stalks covered with mud and straw. The roof, carefully woven of rattan with thick patches of thatch, almost reaches down to the ground so that rainwater falls well away from the walls. Inside the house stand three tall wooden pillars in the middle and six shorter ones on both sides, together supporting the roof. In the Li Language, the three taller pillars are called the “men”, while the six shorter ones are called “women”, showing that a family cannot be complete without both.

While the materials for building these boat-shaped cottages seem fairly easy to find, it takes a family about two months to build one. However, as Li people live in close-knit communities, they usually gather all the people in the village and build each house together, which takes only five or six days. When the house is complete, the owner usually hosts a feast for the village in thanks for their help.

Exactly why and how the first boat-shaped cottage was built is not well documented, as the stories of the Li people are usually passed down verbally. However, it is believed that in the pre-Qin period (Paleolithic period - BC 221), the ancestors of the Li people took wooden boats across the sea from Guangdong Province and arrived on Hainan Island. Having no shelter on the island, they had to use their boats, and flipped them upside down. Later generations then built their houses with flipped-over boat-shaped roofs, which over time evolved into the boat-shaped houses that we see today. In 2008, the traditional technique of building Li people’s boat-shaped thatched cottages was added to China’s List of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) as its second entry.

Under the canopy of the starry sky, the boat-shaped houses in the village stand still, lit up by the stars. The night comes alive with the sounds of nature as the crickets sing their songs in harmony, as if they were telling a story of long, long ago.

(Photo source: “清风海南”)



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