On the water culture of the Naxi people of Yunnan , China.July 13, 2013
Fostering a water culture
The province of Yunnan is in the South-East of China. The mighty Yangtze River, the Mekong and the Salween rivers flow through this water rich land. The rivers come very close to each other here and then separate to flow in different directions. The Salween goes to Burma, the Mekong to Vietnam and the Yangtze stays in China to empty itself into the sea near Shanghai. The high mountain area is declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its sheer natural beauty, its rich water resource and its high bio-diversity. This ensures that the area is preserved and managed in such a fashion that the community needs are met without disturbing the ecology of the place. Our rivers which originate in the Western Ghats deserve this ecological protection too and those who benefit the most from the rivers should be at the fore-front of protecting it at source.
In the town of Lijiang in the North of the province is the town of Lijiang. The old town was inhabited for long by the Naxi people, an ethnic minority population in China known for their beautiful cloth embroidery but also for the way they have integrated water into their habitat and managed it. A Water Wheel stands in the town, also declared a UNESCO Heritage site for its water wisdom and use, and still works. In fact water wheels dot the landscape and in the old town it looks like almost every house had one , to grind the corn , to lift water and to have a myriad other purpose. Lijiang has a series of canals, waterways and water bodies which dot the landscape. The Naxi were and are truly the masters of water.
The spirit of one of their systems truly captures the way the community dealt with water and recognized its quality value. It is called the Three wells model. Water from springs and small channels are led into three beautifully designed storage structures. In the language of the Naxi it is the three wells.
The first well upstream or where the water enters is used for drinking and cooking purpose only. This is the cleanest water. The second well is used for washing vegetables for here the water is less clean. The third well is used for washing clothes, dishes and for other use for this is the lowest water quality of the three yet still clean.
By not polluting the water channels and using the water therein directly, by creating a beautiful architecture around the use of water and by inculcating a discipline and a culture for water use ingrained in the behaviour of the society, the clean water of the area has been used and protected for centuries. Modernity and the lack of understanding of this concept by other communities is a concern now for the entire water system can be destroyed by the bad behaviour of the few.
In India too we see water bodies and wells being strewn with garbage and a lack of discipline in maintaining the water resource. Destroying the local will only create a dependency on the outside water and we will find that there is not enough for us to come in from the ‘outside’. Education, discipline and behavior become culture and in wise water culture is the preservation and sustainable use of the resource.
We can all learn from the Naxi people how to use water wisely. In that lies water wisdom.