Chinese Ethnic Costume

Costumes of Chinese ethnic minorities are flowery, colorful, extremely exquisite, and highly distinctive. They play an important role of the rich history and culture of the ethnic groups.

 

Material

Chinese Traditional Clothing Chinese Traditional Clothing

Every aspect of their garments, such as raw materials, textile technology, fashion and decoration, retains a distinct characteristic of the ethnic group and the locality. The Hezhen ethnic minority people, who mainly make a living on fishing, used to make clothes with fish-skin. The hunting ethnic groups, such as Oroqen and Ewenki, used roe skin and animal tendon to stitch up their clothes. The Mongolians, Tibetans, Kazakstans, Khalkhases, Uygurs, etc., who are mainly engaged in stockbreeding, make their apparel mostly from animal skin and hair. And, farming ethnic minorities usually take the locally produced cotton or hemp thread as raw materials to spin cloth and silk and make clothes.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

The spinning and weaving, tanning and felting techniques of Chinese ethnic people boast a long history. For example, bombax, cloth of the Li ethnic minority, woolen fabric of the Tibetan, Adelis, silk of the Uygur, fur products of the Oroqen have enjoyed a worldwide reputation all along.

 

Style

 

Chinese Traditional Clothing

There are numerous clothing designs and forms in Chinese ethnic minorities. Generally speaking, they can be classified into two types: long gowns and short clothes. People usually wear a hat and boots to match long gowns, and headcloth and shoes to match short clothes. The gowns take various forms. The high-collar and big-front type is worn by the Mongolian, the Manchu and the Tu. The collarless tilted-front type is worn by the Tibetan and the Moinba. The tilted-front type is worn by the Uygur and other ethnic minorities. As for short clothes, they fall into two types: trousers and skirts.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

In terms of skirts, there are pleated skirts, tube skirts, short skirts and one-piece dress. In any kind of clothes, no matter it is a gown, a coat, a skirt, or trousers, different ethnic minority groups employ different structures, techniques and styles. Women of the Li, Dai, Jingpo and De’ang ethnic minorities all wear tube skirts, but those tube skirts worn by the Li are brocade skirts made of cotton, those worn by the Jingpo are woolen multicolored skirts, those worn by the De’ang are skirts with horizontal stripes, and those worn by the Dai are usually skirts made of ordinary cloth.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Costumes of ethnic minorities vary greatly not only with different nationalities, but also with different branches and different regions within the same ethnic group. Difference can be seen from province to province, from county to county, and even from village to village. Costume is the most obvious symbol of an ethnic group, and in the history, many ethnic groups were named just by their garments.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

In a vast country like China, with so many ethnic groups and an unbalanced social development, styles of clothes vary a lot due to different economic lives, cultural levels, natural environments and geographical conditions and climatic conditions. This is one of the characteristics of folk garments.

 

Technique

 

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Techniques such as embroidery and batik are much developed, and are widely used in making clothing adornments. This is another feature of their costumes.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Embroidery is a technique generally favored by all ethnic groups, and it is usually used in the headband, the waistband, the apron, and some rapid-wearing parts such as the border of the front, the round shoulder, the lower hem, the wristband, the bottom of trouser legs, the edge of the skirt, etc., being both decorative and practical. Embroidery techniques include cross-stitch work and appliqué. Embroidery methods include surface, twine, chain, net, stab and stack embroidery. Motifs are natural scenes, auspicious patterns and geometric patterns.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

 

Culture

 

Chinese ethnic costumes are often thought to provide a record of the history and folklore and bear the totems of the minorities’ beliefs, as the weaving together of every yarn also bears the marks of the delicate craftsmanship and wisdom of people.

Chinese Traditional Clothing

Chinese Traditional Clothing

These costumes bear a wide range of symbols, many of which are motifs drawn from their daily life but with hidden meanings. For example, in Miao minority, birds and butterfly motifs are found, indicating that these people have once worshipped them as totems.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Chinese Mei Tai Baby Carrier

Baby Carrier also known as Mei Tai or Baby Sling is a device which allows an infant to be carried on a person’s back or chest.

Traditionally, baby carrier is used so a mother can continue to do her house work or farming work without leaving the baby alone on bed or crawl around the house. Baby carriers are ideal for busy parents and for babies love to be close with their parents.

 

What is a mei tai or baby carrier

In its simplest form it is merely a wide strap or belt of fabric which wraps around both the wearer’s upper body and the baby’s body, thus supporting the baby against the wearer’s body with moderate pressure horizontally and from below.

Baby Carrier Baby Carrier

In rural areas of southern China, baby carriers typically consist of a panel of decorated fabric which is attached to two or more belts. The baby rests between the panel and the wearer’s body, with the belts wrapping around both of them, holding the baby in place.

The panel is generally the aesthetic and symbolic locus of the whole baby carrier. Baby carriers are customarily embellished with designs and decorations through the use of a broad range of embroidery techniques. Silk, often hand spun, is usually used for the fine embroidery. The foundation materials can be silk, cotton, hemp or flax. Besides embroidery, certain weaving styles and types of fabric dyeing are also used.

 

Varieties of mei tai or baby carrier

 

There are distinctive differences in style, technique and material which are identifiable to different regions and various ethnic tribes in China. Many baby carriers are T-shaped with the tops attached to a foundation material and to long ties which are typically crossed in front of the chest and then to the back where they secure the child under his or her bottom.

Some are one piece carrier and others have two pieces with one separate piece attached and used as the baby’s head covering. The baby carrier straps also vary from styles to styles.

 Baby Carrier Pictured here is a Hmong / Miao mother and her baby in a baby carrier with one pair of very long straps attached at the top. These straps are wound over the mothers’ shoulders, down and cross over the chest, then back around the baby’s bottom and back around to the front being tied at the mother’s waist. Many groups use this type strap arrangement. Other groups make carriers with a second set of straps at the bottom.

Generally speaking, in China the farther south one goes to the ethnic tribes, the smaller the baby carriers become. A baby is held firmer in a small carrier, and is therefore more secure against the mother’s body while she is climbing the steep mountains in the south.

Hmong Miao Tribe Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier
Bai Tribe Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier
Guangdong Canton Han People Mei Tai Baby Carrier
 Baby Carrier

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March Fair Festival of Bai Ethnic

March Fair is the grandest festival of the year for the Bai ethnics. Held from the 15th day to the 21st day of the third lunar month every year at the foot of the Mount Cangshan, west to the ancient city of Dali, the Bai hold the festival mainly for harvest. Bai Ethnic

 

History and Origin

 

There are two legends about the festival.

One legend goes like this. At the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618 -907 AD), the devil called Luocha occupied the territory of today’s Dali and persecuted the people. During the zhenguan Period (627-649 AD), Bodhisattva from the today’s India subdued the devil and save people from the suffer. Ever since, people would gather at the ancient town, offering vegetables to Bodhisattva. Bai Ethnic
The other legend has it that back in the period of Nanzhao State (938-1253 AD), the Bodhisattva came to Dali to speak on Buddhism on the 15th of the third lunar month, and then the Daili became a place for loyal believers to pay homage. As time went, for Dali’s strategic location, the city became a prosperous trade market in the region and a grand festival for the local people.

Currently there is no reliable record of the start of March Fair. But these two local legends offer an interesting explanation. Even though the two legends fail to give reasonable and convincing reasons on the history of the occasion, they at least show the fair was related to religion at its first stage.

 

Present-Day March Fair

 

Bai Ethnic Nowadays March Fair has become a prosperous commercial fair with tens of thousands of participants and a total volume of trade of over ten millions each year. During the March Fair, the streets at Dali town are competing with stalls selling a variety of items. Bai Ethnic March Fair is also a commodity and cultural fair. Besides the Bai ethnic people, other minority groups such as the Yi, Tibetan, Naxi, Nu, Hui in that region will all throng to the fair that day and horse race and other traditional folk activities are held. People gather there to enjoy dances, horse racing and other activities. It is now an official festival of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture.

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Bai Ethnic Tribe Religion – Multi Worships

The religious beliefs of Bai ethnic people are complex and varied. Some people believe in Daoism, but most people believe in Buddhism and Benzhu, local Gods. It is very common to find Buddhist, Daoist and Benzhu shrines coexist in temples of Bai villages.

 

Buddhism

 

Bai Ethnic
Bai people believed in Buddhism since the 7th century. In fact, Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy, plays an important role in the oldest myths of the Bai. The Bai embrace Buddhist beliefs about the afterlife and reincarnation and believe that honored ancestors protect the living and drive malevolent spirits and ghosts away. In ancient times, the Bai cremated their dead. Under Chinese influence they began burying the dead, sometimes in elaborate tombs. In modern time, cremation was encouraged to save land.

 

Animism

 

In the more remote places there are still vestiges of Bai primitive animism. It is not difficult to find places where different gods are honored, such as the God of the Mountain, the God of the Crops, the God of the Hunt, the Dragon King or the Mother Goddess of the Dragon King. The Bai believe that spirits can cause illness, but can also protect them. They believe that illnesses are caused by the possession of evil spirits and can be treated by shaman who has the power to enter into trance.

 

Benzhu Religion

 

The Benzhu religion is unique to the Bai people. It plays an important role in Bai people’s life. Benzhu religion believes in gods of natural spirit, totem, historical and legendary figures and ancestors as Bai people believe these figures or natural spirits can protect their life.

Bai Ethnic Bai Ethnic
Each village, which has seen an increasing and fluid pantheon of Gods throughout its existence, has incorporated its own history and legends in deifying former village leaders, warriors, and heroes. These deities, tied to the immediate surroundings, protect the people against sickness and violence, foster the local crops and livestock, and ensure prosperity. They become a personal and omniscient god, lending solidarity to each village’s life. Benzhu is considered as the guardian of village.

Generally speaking one village consecrates one Benzhu and there is also the case that several villages consecrated one Benzhu. In every village around Erhai Lake the Bai people have developed a singular mythology around their own Local Lord, a mythology completely different from that of neighboring villages.

Benzhu Festivals in Dali corresponds to the lunar calendar and are after Chinese New Year. During such festivals, the Benzhu shrine are taken from the temple and carried through town to a different location where they will stay for a designated number of days. The villagers will follow the gods to the designated spot burning incense and worshiping with food and money.

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How to Play Hulusi

Hulusi is played vertically and has three pipes which connect with the gourd wind chest. It has a very pure, clarinet-like sound.

 

Material

 

The traditional materials for making Hulusi are bamboo and gourd. Bamboo is used for the pipes and gourd is used for the wind chest. Nowadays many new materials are used to replace bamboo and gourd. The new materials often used are sandalwood, ebony and cloisonné to make Hulusi look prettier, more luxurious and more professional look. The reeds are made of brass. A plastic sheath is inserted in which protects the two pipes and keeps them sturdy.

 

Main Pipe

 

Single pipe Hulusi are rare. Two or three pipes are the most common. Most Hulusi have a main pipe, which has seven holes, 6 in the front and 1 thumbhole in the back. In 1958, a fourteen-note version was invented, and in the 1970’s a version with two melody pipes, tuned a fourth apart, was invented. Take the following Hulusi for example, the player can either play the key of G or D, depending on which mouthpiece and main pipe is controlling. Musical Instruments

 

Drone Pipes

 

Musical Instruments
Hulusi has a main pipe and two drone pipes, which can play chord. One drone pipe produces high pitch and once produces low pitch. But it is not uncommon for a Hulusi to have only one drone pipe sound while the other drone pipe is merely ornamental and has no sound.

For the above Hulusi , the one on the left have two pipes both playing chord while the one on the right only has one drone pipe sound.

 

How the drone pipes play chords?

 

Traditionally, there are two foam lids at the end of drone pipes, which can be plugged or unplugged to open or close the drones when playing. When the lids are open, the high pitch drone produces a “mi” tone along with the “so” tone of the main pipe when having all finger holes closed, and the low pitch drone produces a “la” tone as resonance. However, the foam lids are not convenient to control as you need to move your hand away from the main pipe when playing, which might disturb the playing.

Drone pipes with foam lids
Musical Instruments

In recent years, there is new technique to replace the foam lids on the drones as to make the drones easy and convenient to control when playing. The drone switches are for great delivery of sound and are quick on and off.

drone pipes with switches
Musical Instruments

The new technique allows you to switch on and off the drones easily at any time without affecting the playing.

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Dai Ethnic Tribe, Home of Peacock

 

Population and Location

 

The Dai are one of the 55 ethnic groups of China. The name Dai, meaning free people, has been officially used since 1953 to replace “Tai” or “Thai.”

There are about 1.5 million Dai in China. Most of the Dai live in the Xishuangbanna and Dehong Dai-Jingpo autonomous prefectures in southern Yunnan province of China. Musical Instruments

 

Language

 

The Dai language belongs to the Zhuang-Dai branch of the Zhuang-Dong group of Sino-Tibetan languages. The written language was derived from Devanagari and differs from region to region.

 

Livelihood and Housing

 

Musical Instruments
Most Dai grow rice. They also raise livestock, tea, tobacco, sugar cane, rubber, fruit, camphor, coffee, sisal hemp and vegetables. Local industry and craftsmanship includes embroidery, weaving, musical instruments and bamboo ware. Jade and drugs are traded illegally in this region.

Most Dai live in valleys and bamboos houses built on stilts. They live on the top floor; the lower floor is for domestic animals, and balconies are used for friend visiting.

 

Dating and Marriage

 

Musical Instruments
Dai are famous for their dating and marriage customs. Teenage girls traditionally have a room away from their parents so she can meet her lover. A girl shows her interest in a young man through singing and a young man would play Hulusi to express his love to the girl.

On the wedding, the parents tie a silk thread in the hands of bride and bridegroom to pray for a good future and bless they can love each other all their life.

The Dai community is so close knitted that traditionally they do not use family names, believing that they are all of the same family.

 

Culture

 

The Dais have a rich and colorful culture. They have their own calendar, which started in 638AD. There are books in Dai script for calculating solar and lunar eclipses. Dai historical documents carry a rich variety of literary works covering poetry, legends, stories, fables and children’s tales.

 

Music

 

Musical Instruments
Their achievements in music are well-known among all the ethnic groups. They love singing and dancing, accompanied by their native musical instruments. Their folk and traditional musical instruments include bronze drum and Hulusi. Peacock dance is their most popular folk dance.

 

Religion

 

Musical Instruments
The Dai religion is Theravada Buddhism. This sect of Buddhism was introduced into the Dai region more than a thousand years ago. The Dai also take part in animistic worship by offering sacrifices to spirits and ancestors. In actuality, the Dai are perhaps more animistic than Buddhist.

In the mind of the Dai people, the “Holy Bird” peacock is a symbol of happiness and auspiciousness, and thereby is a common role in numerous folk legends.

There were many Buddhist temples in the countryside, and it was a common practice, especially in Xishuangbanna, to send young boys to the temples to learn to read and write and chant scriptures, as a form of schooling. Some of them became monks, while most of them returned to secular life.

 

Festivals

 

Musical Instruments
Important Dai festivals are the Water-splashing Festival, the Door-closing Festival and the Door-opening Festival, all of which are related to Buddhism. The Water-splashing Festival is the New Year of the Dai ethnic minority. On the 24th to 26th day of the sixth month of the Dai calendar, people engage in traditional activities such as water-splashing and dragon-boating, hoping to pacify evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the coming year.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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Torch Festival of Bai Ethnic People

The Torch Festival is a traditional festival celebrated among some ethnic groups in southwestern China, such as the Yi, Bai, Hani, Lisu, Naxi, Pumi and Lahu etc. The festival features lighting up torches, hence its name. It usually falls in early June of the lunar calendar or on the 24th or 25th of the month, with three days of celebrations. Bai Ethnic

 

Origin

 

The origin of the festival may have something to do with the worship of fire by ancestors, who believed fire had the power to repel insects, drive away evils and to protect crop growth. For some ethnic groups, it is a tradition in the festival for elders to share farming experience with young people and educate them on taking care of crops.

 

Setting up Torch

 

Bai Ethnic The Bai celebrate the annual Torch Festival on the 25th of the sixth month of the Chinese lunar calendar in a special way. They wear costumes and butcher pigs and sheep for a feast. Children dye their fingernails red with a kind of flower root. On the eve of the festival, people get everything ready for the big celebration. They set up a large torch about 20 meters high made of stalks and pine branches. On the top of the torch sits a large flag. Several small flags are fixed around the torch, printed with auspicious Chinese characters meaning peaceful land, favorable weather, bumper harvest, and abundant farm animals. Fruits, fireworks, and lanterns are hung around the torch.

 

Worshipping Ancestors and Horse Riding

 

Bai Ethnic
The next day, people first go to their ancestors’ tombs and hold a memorial ceremony, bringing offerings and burning small torches and papers that symbolize money. People have dinner earlier than usual. Then, after dinner, the young and the old gather at the village square to watch the big torch and go horse riding. Both adults and children take part in the horse riding. Before they ride away, they go around the torch three times. Those who don’t ride the horse go home to enjoy the torches in front of the houses and then select the most beautiful torch of the village. Young mothers carry babies on their back and walk around the village torch three times to pray for the health of their babies.

 

Lighting Torch

Bai Ethnic Bai Ethnic At nightfall, the senior people of the village lead the other villagers to offer sacrifices to the torch and to kowtow. After this is done, several young men climb up the torch and light it. In no time, a flame rages, accompanied by drumbeats and the sound of firecrackers. Such a spectacular scene it is! As the fire continues, broken bamboo sticks fall to the ground and people try their best to catch them. Those who catch the sticks are thought of as lucky and are warmly congratulated. The lucky ones entertain the other villagers at their homes with cigarettes, wine, and tea.

 

Torch Playing

 

Bai Ethnic The festival reaches its climax with the traditional torch playing. Young men and women hold a torch. When they meet someone, they scatter colophony powder onto the torch fire and the fire flares up. People think this expels whammy from their bodies. Then, young people go to the farms and fields with the torch in the hope of eliminating pests. Near the end of the celebration, people lay torches on the ground and set them on fire. Now it is time for people to jump over the fire three times, one by one. They jump and pray to the god of fire for security and good luck. Finally, they go home filled with excitement and the celebration ends.

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Philosophy of Life in Three-Course Tea of Bai Ethnic

China is a tea-drinking nation. For the Bai, tea is a popular drink. They normally drink tea twice a day, in the early morning and at noon. The tea drunk in the early morning is called “morning tea” or “wakening tea,” and is consumed immediately after getting up. The tea drunk at noon is called “relaxing tea” or “thirst-satisfying tea.” People often add some popcorn and milk to their tea. Bai Ethnic

 

History

 

The Bai began to plant tea and make tea long ago, and they have formed their unique tea culture on tea drinking, which is called “Three-course Tea of Bai Ethnic”. Early in Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Qing (1616-1912 AD) Dynasty, the Three-course Tea had already become a conventional way that Bai ethnic treat visitors.

 

What Is Three-Course Tea?

 

The Three-course Tea is a tea drinking ceremony practiced by the Bai ethnic group on holidays or when treating honored guests. Every course has different taste, implying the philosophy of life that “bitter the first, sweet the second and aftertaste the third.” This ceremony was originally held by the senior members or the most reverent member of a family.

 

Three Courses

 

Bai Ethnic For the first course of tea, the tea needs to be put into a small pottery jar first and roasted on fire until the tealeaves become yellow and give off a charred smell. After added with boiled water, the tea is ready for drink in small cups. It is amber in color with rich fragrance and a bitter taste, meaning that one will suffer a lot before she/he starts his or her career.

By adding new water into the jar, boiling and pouring the tea into a bowl with brown sugar and walnuts, the second course of tea is done. The tea is fragrant and sweet, symbolizing the meaning of “no sweet without sweat”.

The third course is made through pouring boiled tea into a bowl with honey and Sichuan pepper. The tea is sweet, bitter and spicy with great aftertaste, which implies that we need to remain a placid frame of mind after having been through all tastes.

Bai Ethnic The Three-course Tea of the Bai ethnic minority became a ceremony for treating guests or friends of the people of Bai in as early as the Ming Dynasty, delivering people the profound connotation of treating life and career with an ordinary and placid mindset.

After unearthing and the wide spread publicized by tourists, viewing the process of making the “Three-Course Tea” and tasting the Bai ethnic tea culture is widely loved by the tourists. If you go to Dali, do not forget to taste this unique tea. That is another kind of enjoyment!

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Mothers’ Love in Baby Carrier

Monogamous families have been the basic social cells of the Bais, with a very few people who practiced polygamy. Parents live with their unmarried children, but only in big landlord families did four generations live together.

Bai Ethnic
Bai children are given a lot of attention when they are young. You can see many contented babies in beautiful carriers in Bai Tribe. The carriers are padded with a layer of horse hair and quilted felt. The ties are crisscrossed in front and tied around the mother’s waist to secure the baby.

 

Bai embroidered baby-carrier

 

Bai Ethnic Bai women hope for a daughter to help with domestic work. Before she gives birth, a woman’s parents will send “delivery-hastening” food to her, which always includes a boiled egg with a needle in it. When eating the egg, the women will first see whether the needle is pointing up or down. An upward-pointing needle heralds the arrival of a boy, while the converse hints to the birth of a girl. If the first born baby is a girl, she is thought to bring happiness to her parents and the whole family.

Bai Ethnic If the first born baby is a girl, she is carried in an embroidered baby carrier called a guobei, which is unique to the Bai nationality. The epaulet of the guobei is usually made of black flannel with embroidered peony flowers in the center and plum blossom and chrysanthemum on both sides, all surrounded by dancing butterflies and a phoenix above and lotus with green leaves, magpies, animals, and flowers at the bottom.

Bai Ethnic The lower part is usually made of white cloth with patterns of balls pieced together from cloth strips. The tie braces are embroidered to match the entire bright color of the guobei. This guobei is said to not only protect the women’s waist and belly, but also make the baby free and comfortable on the adult’s back, where she cannot interrupt the work of her mother. Bai Ethnic The Bai people believe that flowers are symbol of happiness and auspiciousness and hope girls are as pure and pretty as flowers, so many names are connected with flowers. Jinhua (golden flower) means the girl is as precious as gold. Today, the name Jinhua is recognized as a Bai name, because it has come to symbolize the good nature of Bai women. The life of Bai women is a struggle to create a life as beautiful as flowers.

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Bawu – A Talking Instrument

Bawu is a free reed musical instrument of China folk music. It is played by the Dai, Hani, Miao, Yi in southwest China.

bamboo Bawu with detachable pipe
Musical Instrument

 

A Beautiful Legend

 

There is a beautiful legend about the origin of theBawu. Two young people from Hani tribe fell in love with each other. One day a demon grabbed the girl and separated these two lovers. Then the demon cut off the girl’s tongue and threw her into the mountains. The girl luckily survived. Following a bird’s advice that bamboo can talk, she made an instrument with bamboo and pouring out her misfortune through it. On hearing the sad melody from the bamboo the villagers came to kill the demon and saved the girl. She finally married her lover. Since then Bawu became known as a talking instrument.
Musical Instrument

 

Being Popular

 

Musical Instrument
Although Bawu is originated from ethnic tribes of Southwest China, it has become a popular instrument throughout China. The rich and mellow tone of Bawu has become a favorite with composers of film soundtracks. It is heavily featured in the film Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon , an Oscar Winner for Best Music. Many Chinese music ensembles now feature a Bawu.

sandalwood Bawu with dual pipes
Musical Instrument
ebony Bawu with vertical played pipe
Musical Instrument

In recent years, Bawu crafters take this very traditional instrument into a new stage. The newly designed Bawu are better with high quality copper reeds and mechanical keys. The new models can be vertically played and have dual pipes to extend the range of octaves. The materials are from traditional bamboo and upgrade to sandalwood and ebony. These improvements in materials and craft technique greatly enhance its popularity to music lovers.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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