Peoples of the steppe: the Yis

Ancient and legendary dynasties have given origin to the peoples who now live in Russia, Mongolia, China, etc. Only a few ethnic groups remain in the steppe regions where they still follow their old lifestyles.
The Yis live in south-western China, in the Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces and are now approximately 6.5 millions. Their lands do not allow them to settle permanently: the Yis are nomads who set up their own wandering villages, especially around the oases or lakes the region is dotted with.
The focus of tribe’s life is the tent. Called yurt, it is shaped like a round dome. Its straight walls are made of branch frames kept together by leather straps. Since they are nomads, the whole yurt can be dismounted and taken away. When dismounted (it takes about two hours), the yurt may be loaded onto three camels or four horses. When in a new camp, the yurt may be mounted in three hours by two people. It is strong and can withstand strong winds and even a tiger on the roof.
The yurt is not the only important thing in nomadic life. The horsemen of the steppes are shepherds and hunters, and horses are of crucial importance, not only for riding. Horse milk, in the form of curds, powder, fermented or plain, is important fare, along with horsemeat. In addition, horse hides are used to make leather boots, bags, bowls, packs; they are used in war and are the measure of part of a man’s wealth.
Horses are not the only animals reared by tribes. Sheep, cows and oxen are also common all over the steppe. Camels are mainly used near the driest regions.
The life of each Yi tribe hinges around the chieftain, named khahan. In general, he wields influence only within his own tribe, but, under exceptional circumstances, he may bring many tribes together by conquest and diplomacy. Other tribes may spontaneously join under his rule, either out of friendship or fear, into a powerful nation of warriors and horsemen.

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