The Longest Hair in the World: The Women of the Red Yao Tribe In China

“And men, be careful because the women will pinch your butt.”

Those were the tour guide’s words as we approached the village of the Red Yao tribe. She winked and chuckled as she said this, so we weren’t sure whether she was trying to pull our naive legs or whether she really meant it.

The Spaniard sitting behind me thought something must have been lost in translation so he repeated her words, “pinch? What do you mean they pinch the butts?”

More laughter ensued as those around him demonstrated what he had indeed heard correctly.

The Longest Hair in the World: The Women of the Red Yao Tribe In China

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One of the most unique places I visited during my trip to southwestern China was Longsheng, an area which is home to the Longji rice terraces and the famed women of the Red Yao tribe.

Despite what our tour guide told us, what makes the women of the Huangluo Yao Village world-renowned isn’t their playful practice of butt pinching, but rather their hair. You see, the women of the Red Yao tribe have some of the longest hair in the world – as in their hair is almost the same length as their height!

The Women With The Longest Hair In China showing us the complete length of their hair by putting in front of their faces
The Women With The Longest Hair In China showing us the complete length of their hair by putting in front of their faces

The women only cut their long, black hair once in their life (at 16 when they are ready to start looking for a husband), and as a result many of them boast a mane that is 1.4 to 1.8 meters in length depending on their age.

There are different hairstyles for every stage in life and you can tell a lot about a woman by the way she wears her locks. For example,

    • A young unmarried woman will wear her hair covered by a black scarf
    • A married woman with no children will wear her hair down in two braids
    • A married woman with children will wrap her hair around her head like a turban and wear it with a bun in the front

Up until 1987, the women’s hair was considered so sacred that it could only be seen by her family. If a man accidentally came across a young woman without her black headscarf on, he would have been forced to live with the girl’s family for 3 years as their son-in-law. However, ever since that tradition was abandoned, the village has become somewhat of a tourist destination drawing curious travellers who want to to catch a glimpse of the longest hair in the world and learn more about this village’s way of life.

Lady wrapping her hair around her head while visiting the Red Yao Hill Tribe in China
Lady wrapping her hair around her head while visiting the Red Yao Hill Tribe in China

After learning about the different hairstyles from our guide, we also got a lesson in dating and what men look for when it comes to finding a bride. So what does it take to get hitched around these parts?

A big voice – This is because the man is often far from home tending the rice fields, therefore, the wife needs a loud voice in order to call her husband back home when lunch is ready to be served.

Large feet – Because the people of this tribe live in the hills, they need to be strong climbers, and nothing says ‘I’m a strong climber‘ better than Hobbit sized feet.

A big butt – Any woman who is going to be good at childbearing needs to have a large, curvaceous, plump derriere.  Think Beyonce style.

Small hands – The women from this tribe do a lot of needlework and small hands are best for such fine, delicate work.

Ceremonial dance from the Long Hair Red Yao Hill Tribe In China
Ceremonial dance from the Long Hair Red Yao Hill Tribe In China

Now moving on to dating rituals – it appears that there is a bit of a dating game in this community. Literally. If a woman is interested in a man, she will throw a ball at her suitor to express her interest and he will catch it. If there happens to be a lot of competition among the males for this one particular female, the men will battle it out and fight to get the ball. Whoever catches this ball will then enter into a courtship with the potential bride and they will get to know each other over the course of a year. If everything goes well, a wedding will be in order at the end of that time frame.

The only worry – what if your love interest isn’t strong enough to beat out the others?

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To end things, here is a little video Sam and I made during our visit to the Huangluo Yao Village, and yes there is plenty of butt pinching and awkward singing by the foreigners who got pulled on stage. Enjoy. πŸ˜‰

 

Have you ever encountered a unique community during your travels?

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46 Comments

  1. Fascinating! It seems like much of this involves dating and marriage. Must speak to older traditions, but thankfully they abandoned forced courtship if a guy sees one of the girls’ hair! Yikes!

  2. What an interesting look at a unique tribe. I’ve never heard of them, but you’ve piqued my curiosity. Time to learn more! What beautiful hair. Mine would never grow that long, even if I never cut it!

    1. Hair has a natural growth pattern… it’s normal for hair to stop growing at some point. Like… for the same reason your leg (or other hair :s) doesn’t just keep growing and growing. Maybe it’s rice water and ox combs, but it may very well also be genetics!

  3. says: Shing

    Haha getting lost in translation can be hilarious! I’ve never heard of the Red Yao tribe, but I definitely won’t forget them any time soon. China is so fascinating, I can’t wait to go back. Out of interest, did you book this tour when you arrived in China?

    P.S Glad to read that lotus feet are no longer the things to lust after!

    1. says: Audrey

      Yes, I booked it once I was in China. It’s an easy day trip from the Guilin/Yangshuo area.

      P.S. I just spent the last 15 minutes googling lotus feet and I am so disturbed! I knew about the practice of feet binding, but I didn’t realize it caused them to become so deformed.

    2. I agree…the tradition of foot binding is so sad!

      At massage school we did a module on Oriental massage that was held by a TCM practitioner, and as part of it he gave us a crash course on Chinese foot reading – basically identical to palm reading. He said that if the toes, particularly the smaller toes, are very close together, this indicates the person has bowed to social convention and is very influenced by societal norms. Some people said, “Um…maybe it means they just have bad shoes?” To which he replied, “Well is it not bowing to social convention to wear a certain kind of shoe, even if it is ill fitting? What do you think foot binding was all about?”

      Such a lightbulb moment for me. πŸ™‚

  4. says: michaela

    googled travel bloggers and came across yours… so glad i did! thank you for this detailed peek into another culture. what fascinated me most was the different “beauty standards”…what men look for in a women. i always love hearing what is desirable in other cultures, as it’s usually so different from ours! on another note- you have a beautiful blog. love the colors + layout.

    β€”michaela @ two handfuls of

  5. says: Zhu

    Neat! I know this Chinese minority group (Asian studies and all) but somehow missed on the long hair fact. Boy, I can only imagine washing this hair… I go crazy when mine is past shoulder length!

  6. says: Partial Parallax

    Seems a fascinating village with some very interesting traditions. Although considering they don’t cut their hair after 16 I kind have would of expected some of the hair to of been trailing on the floor. The son-in-law thing sounds like quite a big commitment for accidentally seeing their hair!
    Sounds very unique and very interesting though!

  7. says: Agness

    I have heard this women on Chinese TV and in some photos, but never actually made it there. This is extremely fascinating. Maybe we can go there during the national holiday next week. Great description Audrey!

  8. says: Marina K. Villatoro

    Wow, this is the most unique way of showing your status. I was on an island once in South America where they had hats to show their status of single, living with someone and married.

    Living in Guatemala, I always wonder if the Maya women ever cut their hair too, but it’s never mentioned as a ritual or tradition.

  9. says: Sam

    So funny! Interesting about the large feet; I guess for hill climbing big feet would be useful, but at first I was thinking mountaineering style climbing, in which case the smaller the better, no?! Anyway, sounds like a fun time. Did the show feel really contrived and put on just for tourists? That was often how I found such things to be in China, but maybe this was different if it was a very small village.

  10. says: Nicole

    Finally, a culture that appreciates large feet. Although, I find it interesting that they need to have dainty fingers. Usually, those two features don’t mesh with eachother.

  11. says: Staey

    Wow that is some seriously long hair! Wish mine would grow! I have the big feet and loud voice down pat but I dunno about the rest of it. What happens if they throw a ball and the guy drops it?

  12. says: Arianwen

    This is so interesting! I love it! And I wish all I had to do is throw a ball at the guys I like! Having said that, my aim is so bad, it could lead to some very awkward situations!

    1. says: Audrey

      Haha, I know, it makes dating sound so simple. Unless the guy doesn’t share the same feelings and simply ignores your ball… :/

  13. Very interesting! The qualifications to be a bride is just so sensible according to their culture and lifestyle. How about qualifications as a groom? I am interested to know if there are. πŸ˜€

    1. says: Audrey

      I’m curious too! Our tour guide didn’t really mention much about what makes an ideal groom, though I imagine he would have to be quite strong the beat out the competition.

  14. says: Ryan

    Wow, that’s fascinating, and some great pictures too. The only part I don’t understand though is when a passerby sees a woman’s hair… How on earth could they force him to spend three years with them?

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