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.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!


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Miao Hmong exquisite craftsmanship of Miao’s ‘hundred-bird dress’

It was a normal day at the end of November. Jiang Laoben expertly cut a piece of paper and a classic design for a renowned traditional dress of the Miao people was instantly seen. The dress, with its complicated pattern and rich colors, is called “hundred-bird”.

The “hundred-bird dress” originated with the Miao ethnic group, Guizhou province. The dress is decorated with celebrated Miao embroidery, a craft that falls on the state-level intangible cultural heritage list.

Jiang Laoben, who is in her late forties, is an inheritor of dress craftsmanship in the village and she is well-known across the province due to her superb technique. The complicated patterns and diverse designs turn into beautiful outfits of excellent quality in her skillful hands.

Jiang Laoben draws traditional patterns on the cloth with a wax knife.
 Miao culture

A “hundred-bird dress” is made of Miao handwoven cloth, pieced together with brocade silk in different colors, including red, yellow, green and blue. Rich mixtures of exquisite patterns, such as flowers, birds, insects, fish, butterfly and sun and other natural creatures, are sewn around the chest pocket and corset.. The hem of the skirt is made of embroidery and batik, with a circle of bird features decorating the bottom edge.

Jiang Laoben sews on fabric according to the paper-cut design.
 Miao culture

The dress, with its diversified colors and unique patterns, is highly valued by the Miao ethnicity and has earned the reputation of “the epic of Miao worn on the body”.

Jiang Laoben creates decoration for the dress.
 Miao culture

The production of such an outfit is labor-intensive and time-consuming. One dress will strain all the spare time of a skilled craftswoman for more than six months or even a year. Therefore, very few people in the past worked on making the dresses and they were sold overseas at high prices.

“I want to pass the craftsmanship of the Miao’s ‘hundred bird dress’ on to more people and also to the next generations so that this skill can be carried forward” Jiang said.

Jiang Laoben is creating a “hundred-bird dress” with her students.
 Miao culture

To advance the technique and tradition, Jiang organized “Baibei embroidery mutual-aid team of Miao women” at her home and imparted her skills to the women in the village. With an increasing number of learners coming to her, she’s always teaching them face-to-face with great patience and care.

Jiang Laoben and her students check the finished dress.
 Miao culture

“Nowadays more and more people start to learn the handcraft of the ‘hundred-bird dress’ and Miao batik technique,” Jiang said with a smile, looking into her house full of her students.

Jiang Laoben helps one of her students try on the finished dress.
 Miao culture

Jiang has already taught more than 100 people. Thanks to Jiang’s effort, some women in the village have begun to produce the traditional outfits at home, which brings them tens of thousands of yuan in extra income.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

About Interact China


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

We 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 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.

P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!