How far would you go to uphold tradition? For a small village in rural China, the traditions of their ancestors are worth risking their lives and limbs. The Maio people hail from the Southern province of Guizhou. Written in their ancient doctrines is a rule that all men must scale massive rocks without any ropes or gear for the sake of obtaining an herbal leaf grown in the mountains. The villagers believe that everything is worth the risk, as this particular herb is a remedy for diseases like asthma and rheumatism.
Because of their death-defying actions, the Maio people have earned the nickname “spider-men.” But in what could spark a change in gender dynamics in rural China, Luo Dengping has become the only woman to join this daredevil group. Get to know the fearless rock climber known as China’s first spider-woman below.
Your Friendly Neighbor . . . Spider-Woman? How China’s Luo Dengping Is Defying the Odds
Like the men in her village, Luo Dengping scales up vertical cliffs as high as 100 meters without any safety equipment of sorts.
The practice was originally developed as a part of a burial custom, wherein villagers lift coffins of their relatives and loved ones to place them in small caves or to hang them by the cliffside. A similar practice is observed in the Tana Toraja tribe in Indonesia.
Over time, the tradition fell into obscurity for Chinese village. But the Miao people eventually began to climb the mountains of Ziyun in an attempt to collect rare medicinal plants. Today, only a few “spider-men,” exist and it was only recently that they finally accepted a woman into their group.
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According to ancient tradition, only Miao men were allowed to scale the high mountains. But Luo Dengping defied the odds and took up the daunting task herself. Luo is the only child of a former spider-man. With no male heirs to take on the role, Luo began to climb the cliffs near the village of Getuhe at 15 years old. The area is known for its steep karst mountains and large number of caves on the cliffs.
When she first started, Luo was overwhelmed by the dangerous obstacles she encountered on the cliffside. But since she needed to uphold tradition, Luo learned to perfect her skills and finally made her way up the giant rocks with nothing but her hands and feet.
As she grew older, Luo worked at a construction site in Guangzhou. She returned to her village and tied the knot with a local. The income she got from driving freight trucks wasn’t enough to support her family, so Luo decided to climb rocks again to sell medicinal plants to nearby markets.
In a rather modern twist, a local tourist board discovered the endeavors of the Miao people and offered to pay them in exchange for climbing displaying for tourists. The deal proved to be more fruitful than their previous occupation. It even allowed them to earn a living in their home village instead of moving to another city.
Luo now works from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m each week, with four days rest each month. Overall, this brave spider-woman earns a monthly salary of 3,000 yuan (458 US dollars). Included in the package is a base salary and commission on the number of tickets being sold to tourists each day.
Now 37, Luo is still the only spider-woman among a team of five Miao spider-men. Despite the extreme danger of her work, Luo continues to do it for the sake of her family. She told the Shanghai Daily that perhaps the biggest advantage of her work is that it’s close to where she lives, so she can easily come home to her kids.
Luo has been asked numerous times about how she feels being the only woman practicing a tradition that’s been strictly reserved for men. She gives a simple answer each time, stating that “if men can do it, I can do it too.” Watch Luo in action by clicking on the video below!