‘Sea Gypsies’ Culture Well Protected in China’s Hainan Province

Photo shows a Tanka community “floating village” in Xincun Township, Lingshui Li Autonomous County, south China’s Hainan Province. (Photo by Li Hao)


By Sun Haitian

They live on junks and boats. They build boathouses and live from fishing. These are the Tanka, also known as the “sea gypsies”.

The Tanka are Han Chinese. Living on sea water for generations, they have developed unique customs different from those on land, such as wedding ceremonies held on water and Tanka ditties, a type of short and simple song that expresses emotions. of the Tanka people.

In Xincun Township of Lingshui Li Autonomous County in the southernmost province of Hainan, there are several “floating villages” inhabited by the Tanka people. Currently, the township is home to 456 seafood farms and 1,475 junks. There are over 5,000 Tankas who live and work on the sea in the township.

At the port of Xincun Township, rows of barges float on the shore, and beyond are many seafood farms, which are made of net cages. These houseboats and seafood farms, adjacent to each other, form a vast “floating village”.

As small as these houseboats are, they have everything from living rooms and bedrooms to kitchens and bathrooms. They provide a resting place for anglers after a tiring day at sea.

To better facilitate transportation in the floating village, the Tanka have invented “water taxis” that shuttle between seafood farms and the port, and the water taxis are frequently used by villagers, students and the tourists.
The Tanka people living at Xincun Port continue their traditional fishing lifestyle. Fishermen set out to fish at dawn and return to port a few hours later to sell their harvests, while family members at home sort the catch, wash the seafood farms and weave fishing nets.

The Tanka people still sing Tanka ditties, or “salt water songs”, one of the best-known types of folk music in Hainan province. The ditties carry the memories and express the emotions of the Tanka community.

To protect and inherit the Tanka culture and make it a cultural industry, Lingshui Li Autonomous County has made great efforts to restore marine ecology and encourage fishermen to move ashore, as well as develop in-water fishing. deep and seaside leisure activities. The department, combining culture and tourism, strives to achieve both ecological and economic benefits.

By cleaning up polluted seawater and tidying up seafood farms, the port of Xincun has seen drastic changes and welcomes an increasing number of visitors.

A Tanka culture museum is currently under construction and guesthouses with Tanka characteristics are also being developed. It is reported that the museum, along with other tourist attractions in Hainan, such as Nanwan Monkey Island and Xinying Mangrove National Wetland Park, will jointly form a network that promotes local tourism hubs and strengthens the regional economic force.

Shen Xiaoming, Party leader of Hainan, said during an inspection tour of Lingshui Li Autonomous County that the autonomous county should take responsibility for protecting and developing Tanka culture and developing new business models centered on on the characteristics of the Tanka community.

According to him, Lingshui Li Autonomous County will develop a series of tourism projects to better inherit and protect Tanka culture.

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