"Keepers Of Silver"

"Remember, do not take the cup with your hands, otherwise, your hosts will let go of the cup and you will be expected to drink the whole cup." Words of warning, delivered with a smile from my Guizhou guide. The Rice wine greeting is a custom unique to the Miao ethnic people. When guests come to a Miao village , chances are they’ll be greeted with several wine blockades before entring the village. The road-blocking wine accompanied by songs may be three to five rounds, with as much as twelve rounds.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

The Miao people form one of the largest ethnic minorities in southwest China. They are mainly distributed across Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and a small number live on Hainan Island in Guangdong Province and in southwest Hubei Province. Most of them live in tightly-knit communities, with a few living in areas inhabited by several other ethnic groups. Women's clothing varies even from village to village. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, women wear jackets buttoned on the right and trousers, with decorations embroidered on collars, sleeves and trouser legs. In other areas, women wear high-collared short jackets and full or half-length pleated skirts. They also wear various kinds of silver jewelry on festive occasions. The typical Miao family is small and monogamous. Aged parents are usually supported by their youngest son. Marriages are usually arranged by parents, but unmarried young men and women have the freedom to court. Mass courting occasions sometimes take place during holidays, when young women from a host village gather to sing antiphonal love songs with young men from neighboring villages. If a couple are attracted to each other, they exchange love tokens. But they must still win the approval of their parents before they can marry.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                                                                           Symbol of Wealth

For more than 400 years, silver accessories have been a standard for the Miao people. The purpose of wearing all this silver is of course primarily aesthetic, but they are also worn as amulets to ward off evil, and as symbols of wealth. The tradition of wearing silver is preserved by a great number of craftsmen, scattered through the Miao villages. Most of the silver accessories are made by hand in a traditional way. A silver head-piece can take up to three months to finish. In some villages, every male is trained in silver-work. Each ornament is an exquisite work of art. It is a tradition that, when a girl is born, her parents will start to make or collect silver ornaments that can weigh several kilograms. On her wedding day, the girl will be wearing these beautiful silver accessories.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
 
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                               Embroidered Jacket                           "Wearable History Book"

My Miao guide explained to me that they never embroider directly onto garments;  smaller pieces can be conveniently worked on during downtime in fields and farmhouses. Female relatives will contribute their own individual strips and panels to a single garment, telling a multi-generational story. Unlike Han Chinese textiles, Miao embroidery doesn’t imitate real life; rather, abstract designs are deeply spiritual odes to ancestry and destiny. Since Miao have no written language, motifs passed down for generations are unique records of colourful legends, cultural heritage and family histories.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                               Quingman Miao                            Dragon and Pheonix Design

Few local villagers speak Chinese and none speak English, so travelling with a Miao-speaking guide is a must if you want to fully understand their way of life.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                        Long-skirt Miao and Chicken                                      Heavy Load

While in the home of a young Miao lady and her mother I was startled by the chickens that scattered out the door as a teenage girl entered the room. My Miao guide had made the arragements earlier in the day and asked her to wear her festival costume. She could hardly keep her head staight due to the enormous weight of  her silver head-wear. A full set of silver accessories can weigh up to ten kilograms. While photographing her the chickens made a return and my guide kept chasing them away. I told him not to bother as I felt that they would add to the photograhs.


Comments

Priya Balan(non-registered)
It is so very beautiful and lovely to read how they make their garments. It is amazing. Lovely Images and very unique designs and beautiful colors.
No comments posted.
Loading...