KUNMING: Wearing sparkling earrings and high heels, 29-year-old Na Si is bottle feeding her one-year-old son. Few would connect the modern mom with a very primitive skill — hunting.
“I was able to hit a boar 20 meters away just in one shot,” Na said.
On the wall of her home in a Lahu ethnic minority village of southwest China’s Yunnan Province hangs a shiny and sharp dagger, giving a glimpse of its owner’s past. As the only female hunter in her village, Na gave hunting a shot at the age of 13 or 14. Her father got older, and her younger sister became physically challenged after a fever. She had to take the responsibility to raise the whole family.
The Lahu ethnic group lived on hunting for generations at the border areas of Yunnan and has long been known for their skill in hunting tigers.
The very canyons and mountains that had protected the Lahu from wars also trapped them in a cycle of poverty.
Although Na and her fellow villagers also cultivated crops, scant yields were only enough to feed themselves for months, and hunting remained a vital means of subsistence. “To survive the whole year, we had to rely on relief grains provided by the government and go hunting in deep mountains,” she said.
It was hard for a woman to find her status in a male-dominated profession. Luckily, Na is a natural-born hunter with mastered skills in tracing preys, shooting arrows and setting traps.
Good hunting techniques did not reap success every time. Sometimes, she failed to hit any animals in days and had to forage for nameless edible wild herbs to fill the belly of the family.
“I do not want to go back to the old days anymore,” said Na, who only had one or two outfits a year and no shoes.
On several occasions, she narrowly escaped death in the mountains. Once a time, she chanced upon a human-size black bear. “I was shaking with fear. Luckily, the bear did not attack me and ran away instead,” Na recalled.
Na thought she would be a lifetime hunter like her father. However, an opportunity came amid the country’s efforts to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of 2020.
In early 2016, Yunnan waged war against poverty for Zhiguo ethnic groups, including the Lahu. The term Zhiguo refers to minority groups who, before modernization, had lived in relative isolation and skipped the transition period associated with feudal monarchy.