Silver Ornaments of Miao Ethnic Group are second to none, both in terms of quantity and variety. Miao women's festive attire includes a variety of silver decorations, weighing as much as 15 kilos! The purpose of wearing all this silver is of course primarily aesthetic, but it also shows affluence and is thought to wards off evil spirits.
While usually worn by women, theMiao ethnic minority's silverware is made by men. Categorized by functions, there are hats, clothing, necklaces, bracelets, and rings. The level of craftsmanship ranges from relatively basic styles seen in some of the bracelets and neckbands to very delicate skilful work used to make silver bells, flowers, birds, butterflies, needles, bubbles, chains, and earrings.
There are three basic varieties of Miao silverware distinguished by area. The first type is represented by easternGuizhou Provincewhere people wear silver ornaments made with a high degree of craftsmanship. The main works are silver hats and clothes. The hats are made of dozens or even more than a hundred parts, topped by tall horn-like decorations. The second style is from the Songtao andTongrenregions, and features silverware inlaid on kerchiefs, shawls, and clothes. Delicate earrings are also made with a high degree of craftsmanship although there is now less silver decoration than before. The third type, from theregions west of Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, features comparatively few varieties of silverware. Only hairpins, combs, and flower decorations are made there. All three areas make earrings, neckbands, and bracelets.
There is a great demand for Miao silverware but all the craftsmen are amateurs who can often only work during the farming off season. Then in some regions unique "silver villages" or large compound silver workshops appear.
Because the Miao silverware producing regions have no natural silver resources, the hardworking Miao people used to melt almost all the silver coins and ingots they earned. This led to different levels of silver purity as currencies differed from region to region. From the 1950s, the government began to regularly allocate special silver to the Miao people to as a sign of respect for their tradition and customs.
The design of the silver decorations is largely inspired by other art forms such as embroidery andwax printing. The silversmiths consistently improve and enrich the patterns while keeping the traditional designs.
The rich varieties, elegant patterns, and exquisite craftsmanship not only demonstrate the colorful world of Miao people's art, but their spiritual life as well.
The Miao ethnic minority mainly lives in the border areas of provinces in southwest China where they speak their own language. Farming is their main source of income supplemented by hunting. Their cross-stitch work, embroidery, brocade, batik,papercutouts and handmade ornaments, etc are world-famous for their elegant techniques. The headwear of the Miao ethnic minority is made entirely of silver, with many varieties.
Their headwear includes silver horns, fans, caps, kerchiefs, silver hairpins, pins flowers, chains, combs, earrings, and bonnet ornaments.
Silver horns are usually decorated with a raised pattern of twodragons playing with a ball. Girls put chicken feathers on the two ends of the silver horns which look beautiful blowing in the wind and increase the height of the wearers.
Elegant silver caps are used by the Miao ethnic minority for dressing up. They are made from numerous silver flowers and silver bells with various patterns such as birds, butterflies and animals, giving an impression of pearls and jadeall over the head.
The Miao sew five hollow silver flowers onto red and green striped kerchiefs. The middle one is bigger and placed on the forehead; the other four are smaller and placed in front of and behind the ears. The flickering silver and the flowery colors of the cloth complement each other beautifully.
The Miao ethnic minority's silver hair clasps have many different designs although most of them feature flowers, birds or butterflies. Their themes are very varied; for example flowers may be single or double-lobed, in bunches or bundles, dense or sparse, and in various designs and sizes. The style may be fine, slim and delicately beautiful, or more classically simple and heavy.
The Miao people wear silver pins in various ways. The Miao who live in Longli City wear pins made of three silver balls, with three silver bells hanging off each ball. The whole pin is inserted behind the bun. In Shidong City their pins are shaped like dragonheads in various sizes. Big pins are worn during festivals, and small ones are used in daily life. They are inserted horizontally right through the top bun, with a section of the clasp protruding sideways.
The Miao people's silver chains are a kind of hair clasp. Typically, they are made of a five-stranded net chain, fixed by pins. The five silver chains spread out like a net, covering the bun.
Silver combs are both a tool to comb and flatten the hair and an adornment. They are usually wooden and covered with silver - except for the comb prongs - with various decorative silver patterns on the back. The style may be complex or simple with elegant patterns such as flowers, birds, dragon, and deer.
There is a much greater range of silver earrings than any other type of Miao silverware. The Museum of Guizhou Province alone has, nearly one hundred kinds in its incomplete collection. There are four types of earrings: drop, circle, hook and wheel. Drop and circle types are the most popular types and earrings use other patterns besides the usual flowers, birds, butterflies and dragons.
Silver Bonnet Ornaments
The Miao people regard silver as talisman against evil spirits, so people living around the Qingshui River have a custom of decorating their children's bonnets with silver ornaments. Traditional bonnet ornaments include lions, fish and butterflies.Chinese characterssuch as fu (prosperity), lu (high position), shou (longevity), xi (happiness) and changming fugui (longevity with wealth and honor) are also used because of the influence of dominant Han Chinese culture.
Chest and neck decorations
The Miao people have always attached great importance to neck embellishments. Chains and loops are the two basic kinds while some pieces combine the two, for example the chained rings in some regions.
Silver collars are popular in the south ofHunan Provinceand the Qingshui River delta area of Guizhou Province. They evolved from the longevity clock, and retain the original rectangular shape with inscriptions like "Chang Ming Fu Gui" (longevity and wealth). They are usually worn with necklaces.
Silver Chest Bands
A popular silver chest decoration, the bands are usually rectangular or semicircular and evolved from longevity locks . Some smaller ones are made of single pieces, and bigger ones are made up of two or three pieces, covering almost the whole chest and abdomen with a highly decorative effect.
Silver Hanging Decorations
The most common hanging decorations are shaped like butterflies, birds, fish, coins, and riding figures. They usually consist of chains, brands, and pendants arranged in as many as four to five levels, and the longest can be up to 85 cm long.
Bracelets are an important part of the Miao people's silver decorations. There are many variations in shape and different styles represent the diversified tastes of various Miao group branches. People usually wear four or five pairs of bracelets at a time up their forearms.
Miao silver rings are usually large and wide featuring birds, flowers or vines. There is no specific restriction on how many or where to wear rings. The Miao people near Guiyang sometimes wear eight rings at one time - one on each finger except the two thumbs. In comparison with other silver Miao ornaments, there are few patterns and styles for rings, and they are only popular in a small number of regions.
● Clothing Decorations
People of the Miao branch near the Qingshui River delta area traditionally wear clothes with silver patches. The most common patches are square, rectangular or round and usually feature reliefs of lions, tigers, phoenixes,golden pheasants, dragons, cranes, butterflies, flowers, children and arhats (enlightened Buddhists). Butterfly-shaped bells decorate the bottom of gowns and wristbands, ringing melodiously when the girls walk.
Silver Waist Chains
Silver waist chains are mainly shaped like plum blossoms, with single or double layers.
Silver clasps are most common in the Duliu River delta area. These clasps are highly decorative.
Back decorations can be functional or purely for ornamental purpose. These decorations are usually shaped like butterflies or gourds, and are mostly worn by girls and women.
Waistbands and foot decorations are popular in some regions.
Author: Jeff from http://www.chinaculture.org/