A few more portraits in this series as I travel through an extensive archive of photographs from Yunnan revisiting a world so different to yours or mine.
Going back through images from a past trip to Yunnan’s Honghe area. I am planning a return visit to the region very soon. This is the first of a series on images of smoking inside the traditional life of the ethnic minorities residing in Yunnan.
It is such a common sight in Yunnan to see these strong women from the Yi ethnic minority with pipes lit in their mouths puffing at tobacco smoke around the streets, markets and village homes. The pipes are hand crafted and each woman holds on to hers for life proudly. When I asked about the place where we can buy one, I constantly received puzzled looks, “you don’t buy these, you get one made for you when you come of age”!
Since the 7th century in China, Opium was ingested for medicinal purposes and never smoked. Then in the 17th centurycame the Europeans and introduced the mixing of opium with tobacco to be smoked making it the most addictive practice among the Chinese. This led to the two famous opium wars and after several attempts from the Chinese to ban the import of opium, attacks on the shores of China by the British and eventually several treaties that according to historical accounts marked the beginning of the century of humiliation of this Asian nation.
Today, everywhere you look, people, young and old are smoking tobacco on the streets of China.
If you grew up like me in a small village, you would have had the pleasure of meeting the village locals, fixtures in the village square. In them resides the angel of the village, and they are in many ways the keepers, watchers and essence holders of the whole place. They sit in their usual spots and remain there patiently for long hours during the day monitory the goings on of life around them. Meeting them is meeting the truth of the village.
Every line is a story, every crease an event, every downward wrinkle a tragedy and every upward one a joy lived. We are all on roads that have ups and downs and our faces are there to tell our tales.