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Yugu Ethnic Tribe and Mati Temple Grottoes on Ancient Silk Road

Matisi Grottoes also known as Horse Hoof Temple located in Yugu ethnic region on traditional ancient silk roadYUGU ethnic tribe live off the land in west China on the traditional ancient silk road shares a unique culture that incorporates elements taken from the Mongolians, Tibetans and the Han Chinese. With a population of little over 14,000, most Yugu people live in Sunan Yugu Autonomous County in Zhangye area of Gansu Province. Few others can be found in Huangnipu Yugu Autonomous Township in Jiuquan city, and in Hami, Changji areas of Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
 
Yugu tribe’s ancestry can be traced back to the “Dingling” people in the 3rd century BC and “Tiele” in the 4th century. “Huihe,” was one of the six big tribes of the Eastern “Tiele,” which grew stronger by the 8th century and set up the Hui-e Kingdom in today’s middle Mongolia. After they were defeated in the 9th century, some of them fled to the Gansu Corridor, converged with some early settlers and grew into today’s Yugu ethnic group.
 
The Yugu ethnic group practised Shamanism - worshiping spirits and ancestors. Now many of them follow Tibetan Buddhism. Apart from some Chinese festivals like Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and the Lantern Festival, the Yugus also observe some of their own religious festivities. In the first month of Lunar calendar, Yugu people visit temples and offer incense. The Lamas in the temples cast red dates onto the crowd, and perform Lamaist dance with masks. They also hold Ghee Lantern Show at this time. The 2nd day of the second month in the Lunar Calendar is the day for E-bo, when they usually sacrifice lambs.
 
The most famous one is Mati Temple Grottoes, also known as Horse Hoof Temple, which covers about 100 square kilometers in Sunan Yugu ethnic autonomous county, about 600 kilometers from Gansu's provincial capital Lanzhou. The first caves were dug about 1,600 years ago. Most were chiseled into temples, such as the North Matisi Grottoes carved into a 100-meter-high cliff. The 21 caves are arranged in seven stories. Visitors climb narrow stone stairs to see the top grotto's Bodhisattva Lyudumu in a shrine. Every story contains statues. On the 15th day of the 6th month on the lunar calendar, the annual Sunning of the Buddha Festival attracts thousands of worshipers, mostly from Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet of west China.
 
The Yugus have two languages, namely the east Yugu language that shares a lot in common with the Mongolian language, and the west Yugu language with ties to the Turkish language. Yugus living at the Mt. Qilian and Gansu corridor work in pastoral industry, focusing on herding sheep, goats, yaks, ox, horses and camels, while those living in other regions have taken to agriculture.
 
Apart from the Han influence, the Yugu culture shares a lot in common with the Mongolian and the Tibetans because of its history. The Yugus’ staple diet is meat and milk and supplemented by wheaten food and vegetable. Their well-known cuisines are mutton eaten with hands, roast lamb, “Yangdu Kao Quanyang” (mutton cut into small pieces, stuffed and then roasting the whole lamb on fire), ghee, cream, yogurt, Qula (a kind of milk product), Shaokezi (roasted wheaten food), and ghee pancake.
 
The Yugus drink barley wine that is consumed with meat. The Yugus love milk tea - having them three times a day like a meal. In the night, they have tea with wheaten food. The milk tea is often mixed with fruits, ginger, parched flour and ghee. Milk tea is usually served first to the guest before the food is laid out. Guests have to finish the milk tea, including the diary product at the bottom of the bowl that suggests that he or she does not need it anymore. Or else, the hospitable Yugu host will keep pouring the tea for the guests.
 
The Yugu traditional clothing is unique. Men usually wear high-collared long gowns buttoned on the left, red or blue waistband and round-topped felt hats. They wear fox-feather hats and high boots. But in areas near Tibet, the Yugus prefer Tibetan clothing as well. The traditional dress for Yugu women usually consist of high-collared long robes, covered by a vest made of damask and high boots. Their robes are often made of blue or green cloth, with a vent on the bottom edge. The edges of sleeves, the collars and the front of the robes are usually embroidered with patterns. Married women wear bugle-shaped spire-topped felt hats with red tassels, and head-ornaments. An unmarried woman wears a set of “Shada’erge” on her forehead, which is a red ribbon, decorated with colorful corals and jade, hanging from her forehead like a bead curtain.
 
Silk Road Travel News - Travel West China Tour Information Centre

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