HOME - Portraits of the Hakka
【 写真集解説文より 】
HOME - Portraits of the Hakka
During a period of three years from 2006 to 2008, I photographed the Fujian tulou scattered in the mountainous area of southwestern Fujian, China and the Hakka people who lived in those tulou. Fujian tulou were registered as a World Heritage Site in 2008, but at the time when I began visiting them, tourists were sparse and tourism had not developed as an industry as much as to support the villagers’ livings. Much of the village’s workforce was staying and working in cities, and the huge apartment buildings, called tulou, were each left to just a few elderly couples. Many of the tulou that had not been repaired were starting to collapse. The Hakka people living in the tulou are believed to have descended from prominent clans who came escaping from the chaos of war that erupted in a region called Zhongyuan around the Yangtze River’s midstream-area many ages ago. Couldn’t I search for shadows of the ancient Han people in the faces of the people living in the tulou? That was the thought that I had―one of the things that triggered me to visit the Hakka tulou villages. I wanted to see for myself what stories were carved into the faces of the people who lived there.
Cellphones equipped with cameras have now come into wide use even in deep mountains of China, so it has become normal for people there to be photographed. This was different in 2006. A person at the age of ninety-five was photographed for the first time ever when I went there. At that time, I was still using a Hasselblad film camera, and I used to give the Polaroid films of the test shots to the people I photographed, so I was welcomed at every village. Some people who wanted to have their photos taken formed a queue, and others who guessed I was traveling around taking and selling photo-portraits asked me how much the price was. The faces of these people who had continued a self-sufficient lifestyle until then were burned by many years of farm work under the sun and had layers of wrinkles resembling geologic strata. Their eyes seemed to simultaneously harbor both confidence and bewilderment―confidence drawn from the fact that they have survived through times of dramatic change and bewilderment towards the fact that the traditional lifestyle was disappearing. Their ineffable thoughts seemed to become a strong, pressing force that came to the camera.
I visited the tulou for the first time in ten years in the spring of 2019. In terms of preservation of tulou, a polarization was taking place. Many tulou were being repaired by financial aid from the government and donations from people who had left their tulou and become wealthy. On the one hand, the tulou that were designated as the World Heritage Site attracted many tourists. On the other hand, the states of dilapidation of the tulou that were not selected for restoration and did not have any powerful supporters were worse than before. Among the tulou I visited ten years ago, there were even several that had collapsed already. Although many relatives that had returned to the village had built modern housing around the tulou and began to live there, many of the elders had not left the tulou they were used to living in. There was an elderly woman who still lived alone in her tulou, even though her eyes could not see at all. She had lived there many years, long enough that she could cook on her own even if she could not see, she said. Her relatives too were living in a building nearby. I was able to meet many of the elderly men and women I met before, although many others had already left this world. Many of those living had become wealthy and were now free from the necessity of labor such as farm work. These people looked like they had become younger than they were ten years ago. However, the life that seemed to flow out from them formerly seemed to have vanished. What was it that I saw ten years ago? The world covered in yellow light reflecting from the earthen walls of tulou―the world that seemed even magical to me―seemed to have already closed its doors.
My tulou journey began when I met one local ink-wash painter in 2006, at the time when I was beginning to take these photographs. This man had depicted Fujian tulou and life inside them for thirty years, and he took me to the various villages. “In five years from now, the scenery we see will disappear like it had been just a dream,” he said to me many times. Ten and a few years since then, perhaps what he had said had become a reality. The tulou life that was there formerly had disappeared. Nevertheless, monetary contributions from financially successful Hakka descendants living in and out of the country are playing a role in preserving the tulou where their ancestors lived and which symbolize Hakka culture.
Once a year, during the Spring Festival, the tulou that typically house just a few elderly couples become lively places where relatives gather to from near and far. Many of the tulou standing today are shifting their roles to become places for the kindred to perform rituals. As the Hakka people who lived here for a millennium and a few centuries longed for the Zhongyuan, so do the descendants of Hakka people who left the tulou and migrated long for the tulou in the mountains of Fujian―a place they will never live again. Everybody lives with each of their hearts’ homes.
Does losing one’s old home mean losing one’s identity? Some things are never lost, even if the familiar abode falls to ruins and the scenery around it changes. That is what my tulou journey taught me.