In nearly all of China it is illegal to own firearms. Punishment for possession ranges from three years in prison to the death penalty. But in the deep mountains of southwestern China there is an exception: the village of Basha.
Basha is the home of an ancient tribe of the Miao ethnic group. Mostly cut off from China’s modernization, the people of Basha live in stilted wooden houses near a river, and they are famed as China’s last tribe of gunmen.
Basha’s history with guns dates back hundreds of years to when the village people used them to guard their land from bears living in the nearby forest. For a long time, the villagers relied on guns to hunt for food in nearby forests.
Today, villagers no longer hunt but continue to practice marksmanship at shooting ranges. About 3,000 people still live in Basha, which comprises 400 wooden houses.
Tribe members make hunting rifles using materials from nearby cities. Here, Gun Laosheng, a Miao craftsman, makes part of a gun in his workshop.
The people of Basha have become a big attraction for Chinese tourists, who come to see the villagers perform folk shows and demonstrations of marksmanship. The shows, like this one, feature traditional music and dancing.
Here, Miao men fire their guns during a farewell ceremony for tourists.
The people of the Basha tribe still wear traditional clothing and unique hairstyles, which date to the Qing dynasty. Men carry seven items at all times: their gun, wine bottle, curved knife, tobacco pipe, gunpowder container, wallet, and flower bag. They wear traditional hair braids, which they believe is a symbol of masculinity.
Often, tourists will go to watch one of the Basha’s traditional ceremonies like the coming-of-age shaving ceremony that young boys partake in. During the ceremony, the tribe leader shaves off all of a boy’s hair with a sickle, leaving only the central part.
Boys in the village are trained from an early age to use firearms. This 10-year-old uses a knife to tamp down gunpowder before shooting practice. When boys turn 15, they receive a hunting rifle as a sign that they have become adults.
Each man is expected to maintain his gun. Here, Gun Yuangu uses a twig and engine oil to lubricate his gun at his house.
The villagers worship trees as gods. They believe their hair buns represent trees, while their purple clothes represent bark.
A tree is planted when a baby is born. Often the same tree is cut down when the person dies and is used as their coffin.
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