Zhaba youths have cross high walls of pillboxes to spend the night with their beloved.
In Zhaba, whenever a boy falls in love with a girl, no ceremony is necessary. The boy only has to cross the 10-meter-high wall of the girl's house to spend the night with her. Children born in this way are brought up by the mothers; the fathers are exempt from responsibility, but make some efforts in terms of support under obligation. In their own maternal families, males play assisting roles in bringing up their sisters' children.
The pillbox-like houses in Zhaba are about 20 meters high with 4 or 5 stories. Boys must cross the straight wall bare-handed at night to the window of their lady love. If one enters through the gate to meet the girl for the first time, he will be teased by the girl's family members. And, if a boy is not adept in climbing walls, he has no choice but to give up with regret. Anyone courting in other ways will be beaten and expelled.
In Zhaba, young people begin to have love affairs at 16 or 17, and sometimes even younger. Whenever a boy falls in love with a girl, he has to be tested by crossing the wall. Only when he makes it can he gain the girl's love and be accepted by the girl's family. From then on, the gate of the girl’s house will be no longer locked, and the boy can spend nights with his girl without crossing the wall, but he must return to his mother’s home the next morning. Usually, the spouse remains fixed, and sometimes a man can have more than two counterparts. Once love between two people fades away, they can break up.
Residential quarters in Zhaba, which is 72 km from Daofu County seat.
There are some customs involved in crossing the walls as well. Boys must show their love to the girl in the daytime by snatching one of her ornaments like a headband or ring. The girl can express her love to the boy by opening the window at night, or refuse him by doing the opposite.
In former times, there were no fixed spouses. But now, once the female becomes pregnant, marriage is necessary. However, the couple doesn't live together except for the nights, and the man will return to his own home at daylight. The only difference is that man no longer needs to cross the wall.
For a family of all women, they have the right to recruit their husbands according to the local customs, but usually for the eldest girl only.
Marriage based on crossing the wall has something to do with poverty as well as some of the conventions remaining from the old matriarchal clan system. Therefore, no matter how many women a man has, he cannot bring any of them home, since the authority of the mother in one family can never be ignored or changed.
In Zhaba, women not only do all the housework but also are responsible for farming, raising stocks and milking. While men take charge of the sideline jobs such as culling medicinal herbs on mountains or working outside.
The Tibetan language is composed of Lhasa, Dege and Amdo dialects. The distinct Zhaba dialect can be hardly understood by people outside the area.
According to the current historical records, experts figure that Zhaba people are probably the descendants of the Dangxiang tribe. As an ancient language, Zhaba dialect has a distinct grammatical structure different from Tibetan, but is similar to that of the Dangxiang dialect.
Based on historical records, the Dangxiang tribe had eight clans, including what are today Garze Prefecture and Aba Prefecture in Sichuan. During the Tang Dynasty, when the Tubo invaded the hinterland, part of the Dangxiang tribe was annexed, and the remaining part moved to Shaanxi and Ningxia. The tribe almost disappeared at the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty, and Zhaba clan was possibly one component of it.
Some records show that, during Sui and Tang Dynasty, there existed two “female groups” on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau—one in Tibet, the other in the eastern Kamba area. To differentiate it from the one in Tibet, the female group in Kamba area was called the “Eastern Female Group”.
It was located around today's Danba, Daofu and Yajiang in Sichuan, but perished at the end of the 8th century. Zhaba might be one of the clans in the “Eastern Female Group”. Because of its location in the remote mountains and deep canyons, conventional customs could be preserved.
Take a look at some of the examples, Zhaba people live in pillbox-like houses, and residents in the “Eastern Female Group” lived in high perched houses; The Zhaba clan has the mother as the core of each family, which is consistent with the fact that women had a dominant position in the “Eastern Female Group”.
The pillbox-like houses in Zhaba usually have 4 or 5 stories and are about 20 meters high. Walls are 1 meter thick and made of gallets and clay, with a variety of patterns made by white stones at the center. There is only one gate to each house, which has auspicious totems on the lintel. Several windows are seen from the second story up. The size of the house depends on the number of columns. On average there are four to six columns in one house, with each of which a 65-sq.m. room can be constructed.
Wooden stairs connect every two stories. Generally each flight of staircase has 15-19 steps—odd number always.
The first floor is where the livestock and stores are kept.
The second floor holds the kitchen. A totem composed of a cypress branch, wheat ear and hada scarf is hung on the middle column in the kitchen, which represents a well-off life and a prosperous family. The kitchen also functions as a sitting room. Family members sit on the floor around the fire pit, which is set near the window with three patterned stones in it supporting the pan. The room beside the kitchen is the girl’s bedroom, which is specially designed for the sake of the boy's wall crossing.
Bedrooms for other family members are on the third or fourth floor. There is a washroom on the third floor, and a veranda for drying wheat on one side of this floor. On the top floor is the divine scripture hall, in which daily worship is performed. Females outside the family are usually prohibited from entering this area.
Smelly pork is a special diet for Zhaba people. An adult pig is often strangled, eviscerated, and stuffed with dry peas and turnips. After the incision and the seven apertures in the body being covered by mud and butter, the pig will be buried under plant ash.
Months later, when the plant ash has absorbed most of the water in the pork, it can be taken out and hung in the kitchen, where it continually decomposes and turns yellow.
Smelly pork can be well preserved for tens of years. It is said that the longer it has been preserved, the more nutritious and tasty it is. The storage of smelly pork reveals how wealthy a family is, and it is the choice food for Zhaba people to feast their guests.
Zhaba Grand Canyon is located at the southern tip of Daofu County of the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Daofu County. It is 2,720 meters above sea level, and adjoins Bamei District of Daofu County in the east, Yajiang County in the south and Xinlong County in the west. It exercises jurisdiction over Zhongnyi, Hongding, Yazhol, Zhatog and Shiatog townships. With a population of about 6,000, it is 72 km from the Daofu County seat and 620 km from Chengdu.
Zhaba Grand Canyon has a total length of 150 kilometers, where Sianshui River makes a U-turn. Spectacular scenery can be seen on both sides of the river, with towering mountain cliffs.
Before the 1970s, Zhaba had no highway at all. The first one wasn't built until 1974, when the Daofu Ministry of Forestry began tree felling in the Zhaba area. Excavated halfway up the mountain, the road was so poor that vehicles could only move slowly on the bumpy surface, with the constant threat of hitting the cliff on one side or plunging hundreds of meters on the other. Because of this, few people came from the outside. Although the economic and cultural exchanges with the outside world were strengthened after the construction of highways, the unique convention of “no marriage” in maternal clans still remained. Whenever one falls in love with a girl, he only has to cross the wall of the girl's house to spend the night with her. Mother is the key figure in every family, and house and farm work is mostly fulfilled by women.
Neither telephone nor electricity exists in the county, and there is no resource to be tapped. By 2003, the yearly average income of Zhaba people was only 800 Yuan. In some remote areas, the number was much lower—100 Yuan approximatel