The Ethnic Tribe Who Bears Their Ancestors’ Hair

written by Camille Boukortt

There are 55 recognised minorities in China and among those, the Miao people are some of the largest ethnic minorities with a population over 10 million people. However among this group exist many subgroups, including the Suojia, or Longhorn Miao people.

I used not to know much about Chinese ethnic minorities, but when I started learning about them, the Longhorn Miao people left me a lasting impression because of their gorgeous and intricate headdresses. The latter are made with strings of wool and linen interlaced with the woman’s ancestors’ hair, and are passed down from generation to generation, making them an invaluable and precious legacy of one of the oldest tribes in mainland China.

Longhorn Miao Child wearing traditional Miao clothing

Centuries-Old Traditions

Miao people are known in Asia as the Hmong, meaning “free men”. They are ethnically different and linguistically distinct from the Chinese and the other ethnic groups in China and Southeast Asia.

The Miao appear in Chinese history as far as in 2500 B.C., being described as a rebellious tribe banished from China’s central plains around that time.

Miao people have their own language and although the younger generations also speak Mandarin, older tribe members do not understand it and are unable to communicate in that language. Even among Miao people, there are 5 different languages ! Each one of them is associated with a certain sub-groups. They are spoken languages as they had no official script until the mid-20th century, when they started using Chinese characters.

Instead, they wrote about their history and chronicles through their craft, on their clothes and every day items passed down from generation to generation.

Hair With Meaning

It is important to note Longhorn Miao women do not bear the heavy headdress on a daily basis, instead wearing the long hair and wool piece only during festivals or other special occasions.

Longhorn Miao mother helping her daughter put on her headdress

The tradition of wearing one’s ancestors’ hair comes from wanting to honour them beyond death, and wanting to preserve their image for posterity. The horn shape, however, has multiple supposed origins and meanings. One supposition would be that the tribe, living in the mountains, started wearing them to scare off dangerous animals to ensure their safety. Another theory says Miao people wore crossbows and bows behind their head as a send off ceremony after the King Miao died in the war, vowing revenge for their king. Later, these people would replace the weapons with wooden long horns as decoration.

Some say the moon-shaped horns represent Miao’s people worship of the moon, as they often sing to it at night.

Whatever the reason may be, the peculiar and gorgeous headdress is sure to attract curious looks from anyone unfamiliar with their customs !

two Longhorn Miao children

Preserving Their Culture

However, a lot of younger Miao girls and women keep their headdresses away, both for practical reasons due to the long time required to put them on, as well as the will to preserve their fragile family heritage. Nonetheless, globalization and modernisation even in the countryside has started a constant battle for the preservation of minorities’ culture, as those minorities do not have any incentive to learn about them and perpetuate them, and rather move to bigger cities or choose to work factory jobs that pay them more than selling their own produce.

Longhorn Miao mother and daughter

Supporting ethnic minorities is key when it comes to preserving their cultural heritage !

I hope this article has enlightened you about the beautiful culture of Longhorn Miao people, as well as made you want to learn more about them and support their cultural traditions and unique heritage.

 

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

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Long Horn Miao and Short Skirt Miao

The Miao ethnic people has a population of over 8 million larger than most of other minority groups in China. After immigration throughout history, today they live mainly in Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Hainan Provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Prefecture. Such a wide distribution and the influence of different environments have resulted in marked differences in dialects, names and clothes. Based on style and color difference in costumes, the Miao divided into Long Skirt Miao, Short Skirt Miao, Long Horn Miao, Red Miao, Black Miao, Flowery Miao, etc. Here we introduce two types: Long Horn Miao and Short Skirt Miao.

 

Long Horn Miao

 

Miao Costume The Long Horn Miao got their name from their special custom of using horn as head decoration. They live in the mountains 2,000 meters above sea level in 12 villages next to each other with a total population of 4,000. In normal days the women simply wrap their hair behind their head around a sharp-ended wooden board. They wear long horns only on holidays and festivals, together with the decorative hair (wig) made of linen, wool and hair. The decorative hair is three meters long and 2 kilograms in weight. They first fix the horn with their real hair and then wrap the “decorative hair” around the wooden frame into the shape of a horizontal “8” and tie it to the horn with a piece of white cord. The heavy ornament places extra strain on their neck and waist, making them walk in a special posture.

 

Short Skirt Miao

 

Miao Costume Short Skirt Miao (or Mini Skirt Miao) live in the depths of the southeastern Guizhou Province mountainous regions with the population of 50,000 to 60,000. This region has a pleasant temperate climate all year round. Some live in Langdong, Kongshen, and Konglie villages of Rongjiang County, while others live in the Datang area of Leishan County, and Paidiao area of Danzhai County.

Their daily and festival clothing are both distinct and colorful. The typical costume is a tunic top and mini skirt. The top is decorated with silver ornaments and with gorgeously embroidered patterns of dragon, phoenix, fish, birds and beasts. The minis skirt is hand knitted and is no more than 20 centimeters long.

Previously due to the poor transportation of the remote areas, the Long Horn Miao and Short Skirt Miao have little connection with the outside world and therefore, their culture could be preserved. However, with many highways and roads built in the past ten years in China and increasing number of tourists to these villages, their unique culture and tradition are acing challenges. Meanwhile, with the open to outside world, followed are conflicts between their own ethnics and modern civilizations.

by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com

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