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The Hui of Yanglan
Text and Photos: Frank Ossen
There are approximately 7000 Hui (Chinese Muslims) left on Hainan, a tropical island off the southwest coast of China. There used to be more before. The remaining Hui are concentrated in two villages in Yanglan District near the town of Sanya in the southernmost part of the island. The smaller village on the outskirts of Sanya is called Hui-Sui and the bigger one, nine kilometers away from the city is Hui-Hui, where my wife and I stayed for a couple of days. The latter is actually only half a village, being the Muslim-quarter of Yanglan village, although it is roughly half its size. Their houses are very distinctive from their non-Muslim counterparts, although the roofs are typical Chinese, made of glazed concrete bamboo. In front of every house is a kind of smooth cemented courtyard with two stone chairs attached on each end against the outside walls. Behind the courtyard is the front wall of the house. It has a big wooden door in the middle with Arabic Qur’an-texts painted above it. In both upper corners is often painted Allah and Mohammed in typical Arabic circle-style. The rooms inside are clean and with cemented floors. The walls are decorated with posters from the Holy Places, i.e. the Ka’aba in Mecca and the Mosque in Medina. There are a lot of typical Muslim frills hanging around the house, usually in pastel taints. The Hui women all wear a blue or black silk skirt, which they call an Aa ( or jie fu in Chinese ). It uses silver balls as buttons. Over this they wear a black Daudu , a butcher-type apron. They prefer black trousers and wear yellow towels with flower designs wrapped around their heads. On top of that most of them wear a local straw hat.
Many women are very fond of chewing betel nut. Especially the older ones do nothing else all day long. They even have their own betel nut plantation, guarded by two huge, mean looking dogs as I soon found out. The men however wear modern Chinese dress, except some of the older folks who wear pyjamas and Muslim caps. They’re also trying hard to grow beards.
There are two mosques in Hui-Hui, a recent structure with small minarets and a dome, partly in Arab style, on the outskirts of the village right next to the betel nut plantation, and an old mosque, without dome and minarets, adjacent to the small school (the Sanya Zhong Arabic School). By the way, the courtyards in front of both mosques are used to repair fishing nets. The streets are unpaved and dirty as in most Chinese villages, although free of pigs. Hui-Hui, the Muslim half of Yanglan, is separated from the other half by a long line of trees and a huge pile of garbage. There is plenty of tension between the two sides. There is a gun in every Muslim house and during quarrels they are a decisive factor. Often the Sanya police have to be called in to keep the peace. Despite this the Hui are an extreme kind and hospitable people who like to make friendship with others, although they regard their surrounding as hostile. During the Cultural Revolution hundreds were executed by the Peoples Liberation Army and the so-called Red Guards. Their mosques were closed and they were not allowed to pray to Allah. Slowly things are changing, but Muslims don’t forget and forgive easily. Just in 1988 the P.L.A. killed many Muslims in Yunnan Province.
Many of the young people in Hui-Hui don’t pray in the mosques anymore and indulge in smoking, drinking and gambling, much like other Chinese. But the old men have guarded their Islamic traditions very much, speak Arabic and pray five times a day. Many Hui women go to the market in Sanya where they indulge in black market activities, like changing FEC’s and HK dollars in local Chinese currency ( RMB’s). They are also involved in the pearl trade.
Their food is of course pork-free, and consists of many vegetables, particularly capsicums. Thick-cut rice noodles and sticky rice with beans are also very popular. Fish is a delicatesse although we were served a freshly butchered, greasy duck. Then it seemed to me that while most women run the business, most of the men are involved in fishing, the sea being less than a kilometer away from the village, and in agriculture.
Every Hui has two names ; an official Chinese name and a Muslim name. There is a strong feeling of brotherhood with other Muslims around the world. They themselves are of the Sunni brand of Islam and besides on Hainan Island, they live in small pockets all over China.
© Frank Ossen 2002
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