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Dutong, little children | by Arian Zwegers
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Dutong, little children

Dutong, little children


The Dong a.k.a. Kam, a Kam–Sui people of southern China, are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. They are famed for their native-bred Kam Sweet Rice, carpentry skills, and unique architecture, in particular a form of covered bridge known as the "wind and rain bridge". The Kam people live mostly in eastern Guizhou, western Hunan, and northern Guangxi in China. Small pockets of Kam speakers are found in Tuyên Quang Province in Vietnam.


The Kam are thought to be the modern-day descendants of the ancient Liáo peoples who occupied much of southern China. Kam legends generally maintain that the ancestors of the Kam migrated from the east. According to the migration legends of the Southern Kam people, their ancestors came from Guangzhou, Guangdong and Wuzhou, Guangxi.


Although the Kam and Han Chinese peoples generally get along well today, the history of Guizhou is marked by innumerable tensions and conflicts between the Han Chinese and non-Han minority groups. Many Kam rebellions took place during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but none were successful in the long run. Today, many Kam are assimilating into mainstream Chinese society as rural Kam move into urban areas, resulting in intermarriage with the Han Chinese and the loss of the Kam language. However, various attempts to preserve Kam culture and language have been very successful, and improving living conditions in rural Guizhou may entice local Kam villagers to stay rather than move to major urban areas.


The Kam people are internationally renowned for their polyphonic choir singing, called Kgal Laox in the Kam language, which can be literally translated as Kam Grand Choir or Grand song in English. The Kam Grand Choir has been listed by UNESCO as a world-class intangible cultural heritage since 2009.


Kam society was also traditionally matriarchal, as can be evidenced by the cult of the goddess Sa Sui.


An average-size Kam village has 200–300 homes, although the smallest ones have only 10–20 and the largest ones have more than 1,000.


The Kam people are traditionally polytheistic with many elements of animism. Totems include turtles, snakes, and dragons, and worshiped ancestors include the mythical figures of Song Sang, Song En, Zhang Liang, and Zhang Mei. The Kam also use rice grains, bamboo roots, snails, and chicken bone, eyes, blood, and eggs for divination. Today, Taoism, Buddhism, and to a lesser extent Christianity are practiced by the Kam.



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Taken on December 17, 2016