A Dungan rite of passage  –
The Hui people of Yrdyk

A Dungan rite of passage – 2018
Images taken during a day-long event, celebrating the circumcision and coming of age of two young village boys in Yrdyk, Kyrgyzstan

I learned of the Hui people during my first trip to Kyrgyzstan, documenting a multi-week bikepacking race. As we followed the cyclists halfway across the country, the race had led us into a region where special permits where needed in order to enter. We had of course applied for these beforehand and we had also learned that they were required by the Chinese authorities. Kyrgyzstan shares a 1.063 kilometer long border with its eastern neighbor and this border happens to neatly enclose the most western stretch of the Xinjiang  – a region heavily shielded from prying eyes and foreign intervention. As with every border region, I wondered how the Uighur and Kyrgyz cultures might have mixed and migrated alongside this one. I was also curious to find Uighurs that might have been able to make their way across the border recently. And whilst I did not find any individual or group that has successfully made passage from Xinjiang recently, I did stumble upon a people that have done so two centuries ago.

The Dungan, or Hui people are a muslim people of Chinese origin . 
Their ancestors began settling in the territories of the former Soviet Union in the late 19th century, fleeing persecution, slavery and the aftermath of the Hui wars in China. The various Dungan communities do not have one shared language, but instead speak a variety of Chinese dialects that has been passed down through their migrating ancestors. Today, with more than three-thousand Dungan in and around Yrdyk, the Karakol region of Kyrgyzstan is home to one of the largest Dungan communities in the world. This successful growth can be attributed to the three fundamentals of their survival strategy: Marriage, procreation and celebration of tradition. The instillment of these fundamentals is taken seriously and start early: Girls as old as four will be groomed and dressed up as tiny brides whilst young boys will be circumcised and celebrated as young men. Marriage is expected and so is plentiful childrearing. Marriage outside the Dungan line will not be permitted as is leaving the community. Rituals and ceremonies require the attendance of all members and follow a strict separation of men and women. Preparation of food is carried out only by men, following the islamic ideals in producing food that is ‘pure and truthful’. 

All images copyright
of Guannan Li