The Li roof builders
During the summer of 2017 myself and Patrick Quinn from tropicalhainan.com, travelled around the outside of Hainan island on motorbikes. It was a trip which was planned around two weeks before the start date over beers and coffee… beer for the night time planning sessions and coffee for the daytime. The trip was initially supposed to be a camping trip for a couple of nights which eventually turned into a 15 day road trip around the island of Hainan.
We visited the Li minority roof builders in a small village called Nan Wang village near Mao Gan town and photographed them building a new traditional Li boat house.
We were picked up Mr. Wang Kui who took us deep into the country to meet the roof builders, the roads were muddy, loose and wet which wasn’t ideal with a car full of people. I was excited already at the slight element of danger, most great things happen when you’re out of your comfort zone
We arrived at the site after around 20 minutes in the jeep, and were greeted by some of the workers. The ground below us was boggy and it was still raining, we quickly made our way into the shelter which was already built, inside this man was cooking lunch.
The new site was some 40 metres way and we had to cross a narrow plank across a stream to access it. Labour is divided up between the men and the women, the women pictured below are sat here splitting bamboo canes, this is what holds the roof thatch in place. The men at the time wern’t working as they are waiting on the split bamboo canes, this gave us the opportunity to meet some of the workers and photograph away.
Unknown to myself I had been bitten by a leach and had blood coming out of my ankle, one of the men took some tobacco out of a pouch and approached me, pointing to the bloody area, everyone was laughing so I thought he was having me on at first, one of the leaders came over and assured me that it would work so what the heck, plug away! So I had the wound plugged with tobacco which actually stopped the bleeding quite quick, I was told that they use this method all the time. So if you’re ever out of bandages, just open up a package of tobacco. I was walking around in flip flops in true Hainan style, some of the men were working bare foot.
We learned about the Dao lou which are the baskets slung around the waists of the workers, we had been seeing these for the last couple of days and wondering what they were as we hadn’t seen them in other parts of Hainan. The baskets are worn by the Li minority and they are used to carry anything from work tools, fish and shopping. The baskets are sometimes passed down through generations but most people make their own when they’re young, their elders teach them how to make them at a young age.
This is Wang Zhao Han and he's the architect behind the build, he's 56 years old and looks better than most half his age. He has been an architect for many years and has a strong presence in the community, working on all of the builds in the area. He is also responsible for passing on the knowledge of roof building to the next generation and at present is currently teaching three teenagers in the art of roof building
Later that afternoon, we were given a ride to the stone forrest which was nearby, we never made it as the 4 x 4 we were in broke down on a hill that looked around 45 degrees. Anyway we had a couple more hours of light left and decided to go for a little stroll, while the truck was being fixed. We soon stumbled across a small village, with around 30 stone houses, each house had the Li baskets hanging outside the door. We had been invited to eat food with the roof builders that night so we had to rush back before it got dark, the 4 x 4 was up and running again and it was a long 20 minutes down winding hill roads, the rear of the 4 x 4 sliding on every corner, with a sharp drop on the right hand side. It was quite nerve racking to say the least.
We arrived back safely to see food being served, and the table laid with banana leaves. I also spotted a 10 L clear drum full of liquid on the table, I knew full well what was inside and was already looking forward to the rest of the evening. Food was served and consisted of, chicken, goose, pork and vegetables... the goose was the best I had ever eaten, pictured below you can see it being chopped up. I was really taken away that night by the hospitality of the Li roof builders, it really was an amazing experience, to be sitting drinking, eating and listening to traditional Li songs. The night went on into the early hours of the morning, sadly not many photos were taken after 9 pm as there was a lot of toasting with the traditional Li rice wine and I didn't want to invade too much into their lives........
I have since developed a taste for Li rice wine and often buy it when I see it at the side of the road!