Unveil intangible cultural heritage of Baicheng

Girls in Mingbulake Village are making embroideries.

In Yatur Village, Yatur Town of Baicheng County, only 81-year-old Slamu Tuke can make "Kuosai" now.

In Baicheng County of Aksu area, a place with profound historical and cultural deposits, as we watched the show of folk cultural heritages, such as embroidery, homespun, handmade leather shoes, folk drum music etc and walked through people who were reluctant to leave, we saw also the hope that they will be passed on.

"Kuosai" shoe-making

The Uyghur word "kuosai" means handmade leather shoes. In Yatur Village, Yatur Town of Baicheng County, only 81-year-old Slamu Tuke can make "Kuosai" now. His leather shoes are quite famous. Every year when it is getting cold in autumn, people will come and buy leather shoes made by him. 

The old man Slamu Tuke is the third-generation inheritor of heirloom skills of "Kuosai" (shoe-making). He started to make leather shoes since 16 years old and has perfect skills. We saw him holding a needle and passing the thread through the small needle hole. When we were worrying about his eyesight, the old man had already held the needle with thread and began to sew leathers in his hands. 

This kind of leather shoes is mainly made of oxhide and goatskin. They are light, soft and comfortable. Slamu Tuke can make two pairs of large shoes or three to four pairs of smaller shoes in one day. 

The Uyghur ancestors developed the habit of wearing "Kuosai" during their centuries of hunting and nomadic life. Women's shoes have various patterns and are quite elegant. The handmade skills are circulated among folks for hundreds of years and can be said as the "fossil" of leather shoes. It is valuable to academic study of fashion history and life customs of Uyghur ethnic group.

Handmade leather shoes are phased out gradually due to changes of era and higher living standard. As the old man told us, "All people wore this kind of shoes before liberation, but now people think it ugly. Only I can make it in the village. Nobody wants to learn the skill."

"Kuosai" has been listed into the first batch in the catalogue for protection of intangible cultural heritage in Aksu area this year and applied as intangible cultural heritage in the autonomous region. "Kuosai" shoe-making skills face the dilemma of "no inheritors" and needs urgent rescue and protective measures.

"Palazi" homespun 

Have you ever seen beautiful and naturally-dyed homespun? Such gorgeous homespun is dwindling today as modern textile industry develops rapidly. 

Mingbulak Village in Heiyingshan Town of Baicheng County is the very place where the Uyghur folk handcrafts of "Palazi" is inherited. "Palazi" homespun skill is the representation of ancient homespun skills. It has a history of four centuries according to local people's oral history.

"Palazi" here is mainly homespun wool. In Mingbulak Village, more than half families have such "Palazi" spinner. It is quite simple: a common wooden frame and a blade-shape flipboard (for warp knitting and pressing). You just need to fix different colors of wool threads at two ends and the wooden frame can complete the spinning. 

"Palazi" has a long history as the "living fossil" of textile industry. The indigenous methods for choice of materials, thread-spinning and weaving process have certain values to academic studies. Also, what deserves mentioning is its use of natural plants and natural mineral dye.

"Palazi" has been listed into the catalogue for protection of intangible cultural heritage in the autonomous region. The county is training a new generation of inheritors to "Palazi" spinning and dying skills and plans to include Uyghur "Palazi" spinning kills into the county and town (two-level) new projects for economic development within three to five years. The county will stipulate a feasible development plan, guide it into a correct path of marketing and ensure healthy and orderly inheritance of Uyghur "Palazi" spinning skills. 

"Shayiremuketeke" yogurt

Few people in cities have ever tasted yogurt that long threads can be drawn from. It is called "Shayiremuketeke". This yogurt is quite famous in Baicheng. 

Why long threads can be drawn from this yogurt? The secret lies in the materials and cooking method. 
Turehan Turepu, the inheritor of "Shayiremuketeke" yogurt, put fresh milk into a pot and boiled it slowly until the milk got dense. He then left it to cool down a bit and added "Kunaige" (yeast of yogurt), placed the cover and put a thin blanket above it, left it for 8 to 9 hours and yogurt was done. 

According to the legend, Sailimu, a town in ancient times, had no place to store too much milk in summer. One day, a herdsman put the remaining milk into a leather bag. The fresh milk didn't get sour after one night, but tasted sweet and a bit sour, quite delicious. Thereafter, skills to make yogurt were passed down there. 

Such yogurt features crystal and clear color, white as jade. It is covered by a dense layer of pale yellow butter. After a bite, the pleasant flavor penetrates into your heart. You don't need to put in sugar and can enjoy the "simple" and "original" sweetness. Such yogurt is quite thick and difficult to pour out. You could only get it out by a spoon.

"Shayiremuketeke" yogurt has been added on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Aksu Area. 

At present, Baicheng County has collected and sorted out 7 categories and 37 items of intangible cultural heritages. Six folk cultural heritages in Baicheng were put into the first batch of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List in Aksu Area. It will play a positive role in promoting effective protection, inheritance and development of intangible cultural heritages, maintaining diversity and safety of ethnic culture, and facilitating prosperity of ethnic culture.

Thoughts: Inheriting culture is a kind of responsibility 

I must struggle in the crowd to approach an old lady spinning "Palazi" in Baicheng County. So many people love the homespun. Their admiration of this skill made me think a lot. What is "Palazi"? What's the process of homespun? What tools they use? How much a piece of homespun blanket can sell? People are quite interested. This folk cultural heritage, which existed only in remote Heiyingshan Town of Baicheng County before, caused quite a surprise when it was exhibited in the county seat about 100km away from its home.

It is the very meaning of inheritance. These cultural heritages that can be traced back centuries or millenniums ago have become an inseparable part of nomadic people in days of slash and burn. Even today, when modern civilization is highly developed, many of them are still admired, loved, collected and used by people. 

Inheritance is an unavoidable responsibility. The cultural heritage that has been passed on for centuries is "gene" of the ethnic blood and "proof" of ethnic identity. Only when we can still see "vitality" of folk culture, we can find the sense of belonging by following it back to the origin, and will not lose ourselves in the trend of "assimilation" and will find the homebound road.

It is the responsibility for all of us today to inherit and continue the history and culture, rescue, excavate and sort out excellent folk cultural heritages that are at the verge of disappearance and make sure the survival of ancient cultural heritage. 

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