Cave Tombs and Stone Coffins of Gelao Ethnic Group

In the ancient times, stone coffins and cave tombs are widely practiced. Although in recent times, wooden coffins, stone outer coffins and earth tombs are popular, cave tombs and stone coffins still remain in some places. Stones are piled up as symbol of the earth tomb, while such auspicious trees as boxwood and cassia bark are planted at the grave mound and before the grave. There are two kinds of cave tombs: natural cave and man-made cave. Some of the man-made caves are cut on cliffs, while some are built with stone plates, lime and bamboo sticks, or clay bricks. Those built with stone plates are of a variety of forms: “document-containing barrel”, “rice-washing bamboo basket”, “bright hall”, “resounding hall”, “dark outer coffin”, etc. In this kind of grave father and son or mother- and daughter-in-law can be buried together.

The coffin is made of stone plates, usually buried in an earth mound, on top of the mountain, beside the river, or even in ripraps and bushes. The well-known Qingqiu Cliff tomb groups can still be seen in Sanhui Village of Daozhen County. Orderly arranged caves have been cut on a steep cliff, each cave 1.2 metres high, 1.7 to 2.6 metres wide and about 2 metres deep. Outer coffins are made up of stone plates in the caves. The number of the plates is usually odd, 7, 9 or even dozens of pieces. Wang Yinliang’s tomb in Daozhen County is built of bluestone, the front wall of which is carved into a memorial archway.

The whole tomb is like a pagoda, 5.5 metres high and 6 metres wide, consisting of 3 floors. The ground floor has 3 doors, on which are engraved historic characters, flowers, herbs, birds and beasts, and on the forehead of the eaves are embossed phoenixes. The second floor has 4 pillars and 3 doors, with engraved folk stories on them. On the third floor, twining dragons are hollowed out in the 2 pillars in the middle, while on the two sides are engraved phoenixes spreading their wings. The sculpture is very exquisite and designed smartly. All the sculptures are on the steep cliff, as if they are not made by man but immortal’s hands. The dragons, phoenixes, herbs, flowers, and persons are very vivid and lifelike, all coming from nature and the ordinary life.