This guest post by Jon Kay, Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures provides Jon with the opportunity to share the first of the documentary videos arising from work that he and colleagues pursued together in Nandan County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in December, 2017. It is the final post in a eleven-part series relating to travel in China and specific work in Nandan County that began with a post on January 2, 2018 and continued most recently through post 9, a guest post by Carrie Hertz of the Museum of International Folk Art. These earlier posts are accessible here 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.
Lu Bingzhao uses a billhook to make a wooden mallet or maul. December 15, 2017. Photograph by Kurt Dewhurst.
I was in Southwest China as part of a joint team of researchers from the United States, the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, and the Nandan Baiku Yao Eco-Museum who were documenting basket and textile traditions of the Baiku Yao people in Nandan County, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Our team visited a home in Manjiang village to inventory the baskets collected and used by a local family. As the fieldworkers worked photographing and measuring baskets, Mr. Lu Bingzhao came into the house and picked up a mallet, which he showed everyone and then went outside. I did not speak Mandarin or the local Baiku Yao dialect, but I felt he had something he wanted to show us. I went outside and saw him lay the mallet on the trunk of small felled tree in order to get a rough measurement; it was then that I realized he was going to make a mallet. I grabbed my camera and began shooting. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I didn’t expect to shoot the entire process, but I became enthralled with how the elder worked. Two of his grandchildren played nearby, and they often stopped to watch him work and to interact with him. Neighbors and family members stopped by to visit as they returned home from picking greens. Mr. Bingzhao worked steadily as people came and went. He was skilled at using the billhook. With heavy chops, he used the hook to quickly remove the excess wood. Then he delicately shaved the mallet’s handle smooth, using a pulling motion. Finally at the end of the video, just as he completes the mallet, he gives it to his daughter-in-law. Tree became tool and gift in little more than an hour.
I was told that mallets, like the one made in this video, are commonly used to pound rice straw for sandals and to set the poles for warping a loom, the later activity I witnessed the next day when a group of weavers came to the Nandan Baiku Yao Eco-Museum office, where I was staying. I am sure the mallet probably has many other uses in the daily life of the community. For sure, the young woman would find utility in the gift. This video was totally unplanned, as the shaky recording and odd camera angles reveal, but I was compelled to edit this footage into this short portrait, to document the making of this tool. Reflecting reoccurring themes in my scholarship, it also demonstrates how craft can connect an elder to his family and community.”
A number of poles of this type are driven through holes in the paving stones in the museum’s plaza/parking area. This large flat space is ideal for the complex and space-intensive work of winding and arranging yarn for loom weaving. December 17, 2017. Photograph by Carrie Hertz.
A Baiku Yao woman uses a mallet to drive posts used in preparing a loom for weaving. December 17, 2017. Photograph by Carrie Hertz.
Technical Note: The video was shot with a Canon 80D camera with a RØDE stereo microphone attached to the camera’s hot-shoe mount.