Step into Nuohei Village (糯黑村) of Shilin County (石林县), home to the world-famous Stone Forest, and you will be greeted by an authentic stone world. Many parts of the homes and tools in this Sani ethnic group village are made of natural limestone, including the roof tiles, walls, tobacco kilns, stables, grinding mills, gates, and roads. Some of the stone houses inside the village are at least 100 years old and provide great interest to explorers. The best way to explore is to take a stroll along the major road in the village, around which the stone residences are located.
Nuohei Village lies in the Karst geographic area of Shilin County. The locals have kept up the tradition of making use of nearby natural resources. After limestone is quarried they process it into slabs for further use - paving roads or constructing houses. In ancient times, the forefathers of the Nuohei villagers chose flat areas in these rocky mountains to chisel stones and carry out construction. It is said that the stones used for making building foundations were more than enough to construct an entire house.
Like traditional residences elsewhere, the houses in Nuohei are constructed using wood and mostly stone. Most families have a main house (three rooms) and a side house (two wing rooms); and around each family home, old trees and bamboo groves thrive.
Due to its artistic value, Nuohei is a popular location for many art school students seeking to develop their painting skills. As the village has become more known to the outside world, many villagers have opened restaurants in the village, such as Cengshi Villa, Sitongyuan, Yulanyuan, Luosonghang, Lijiayuan and Family Wang's Compound. In these restaurants you will be treated to the traditional home-cooked dishes of the Sani people.
A brief history of the village
Nuohei village was established in the 21st year (1816) of the Jiaqing Reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and it was once a pass for horse caravans from Luxi to Kunming. In the 1920s when China was governed by warlords, Nuohei villagers constructed stone walls, four gates, and five blockhouses around the village to fight off rampaging bandits.
Some old villagers say that near the entrance to the Mizhi holy forest, there used to be two steles engraved with the history of the village, but unfortunately these were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In July 2009, the 16th Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences convened in Kunming, and some 130 attending experts participated in an investigative tour of the village.
The Festival of Men
95% of the Nuohei villagers are Sani ethnic members. In each lunar November, they celebrate the Mizhi festival (密枝节) which is only attended by men. In the Sani people's tradition, Mizhi forest, also called "sacred forest", is a holy place where any living being is inviolable.
The Mizhi festival usually lasts three to seven days. The date of its celebration differs: for the Sani, Black, and Ahwu branches of the Yi people who live around the Stone Forest, it is normally celebrated in lunar February; but in lunar October or November for the Yi people who live in the mountainous areas.
When the Mizhi festival is due, all the men of a Sani ethnic village will rally to select the "Mizhiweng" or the head responsible for presiding over the festival, and to pick out eligible men to take part in the sacrifice offering ceremony for the Mizhi God.A white goat (sheep), a white rooster and a white pig are needed for the ceremony, and when the day comes, the Mizhiweng assigns tasks to all the participants. Women are required to stay indoors during the festival.
The Mizhi God is believed to live in the holy Mizhi Forest, safeguarding the Sani people, though different versions of folklores for the festival. According to traditions passed down through the years, the Bimo (Yi ethnic priest) is be accompanied by a group of eligible men to enter the Mizhi Forest and find the holy Mizhi Tree. They lift the Mizhi God, which is enshrined every year under the Tree, into a basket cushioned with pine needles. After this ceremony is carried out in the forest, the Mizhi God is taken to the home of the priest to be bathed, redressed, and then taken back to the forest the following day.
During the seven-day festival, the priest will lead all the men on a tour of the village, speaking aloud in order to call out any bad behavior which has taken place in the village that year.
(1) Nuohei village is located 4 km west of Kuishan Town (奎山镇); 30 km from Shilin county; and 25 km from the Stone Forest; (2) You can contact local travel services in Kunming to organise tours to the Stone Forest and Nuohei Village.