China officially recognises 55 different ethnic minorities, such as Uyghur, Tibetan and Miao. However, these state-approved classifications are often made up of hundreds of smaller groups with entirely different cultural practices and histories. There are about nine million Miao people living in villages scattered across the mountains of southern China, many with their own dialects and their own traditions.
The Suojia (Long Horn) Miao number about 5,000 people, living in just 12 villages in Guizhou province, southern China. The Long Horn Miao are best known for their women's elaborate headdresses worn by their women. Each giant wig is made by wrapping wool, linen and the hair of the woman's ancestors around a pair of animal horns or a wooden clip, and securing it in place with a white ribbon. The materials and the hair are passed down from generation to generation.
Nowadays the headdresses are worn only for special occasions – or for tourists. As China opens up, the age-old traditions, language, and culture are fading. Young adults leave their remote rural villages and head to the cities for better opportunities. Farming and labour remain the mainstays of life for the Long Horn Miao, leaving the area relatively poor in comparison with many parts of China. The government has invested significant amounts into local infrastructure and the tourism industry to try to bolster the local economy.
Award-winning photojournalist Kevin Frayer visited the Long Horn Miao as they were preparing to celebrate Tiaohua, or the Flower Festival, held around Lunar New Year. The festival draws young Miao people from remote communities to the village of Longga, where they spend several days singing and dancing and, perhaps, falling in love and finding someone to settle down with and keep the Miao traditions alive.