The Mesmerizing Culture of the Miao People: Clothing that Integrates Both Nature and Culture

Hmong girl with traditional clothes costumes sitting sitting under tree in the park


The Mesmerizing Culture of the Miao People: Clothing that Integrates Both Nature and Culture

by Live in Guizhou

PUBLISHED Nov 11, 2021 • 4MIN READ

The traditional clothing of the Miao people are a mixture of black and blue colors, and as a result of the dexterous hands of Miao women, whether they are walking in the streets, selling wares on the road, or working through the field, wearing fashionable or traditional clothing, the earthen colors of the mountains and rivers are exhibited on the clothing. Miao dresses worn by the women are embroidered with flowers, grass, phoenixes, magpies, and kingfishers, which sway sideways as they walk.

Legend has it that the “Mother Butterfly,” regarded as the ancestor of the Miao people, emerged from an ancient maple tree. As a result, Miao people plant many maple trees in their villages to protect the peace of the village. Maple trees are also planted at the ends of the bridge conveying the meaning of escorting people safely across the river. Planting maple trees on the edges of fields is intended to ensure a good harvest. When someone in the family is ill for a long period of time, they will burn incense, perform a ritual gesture of respect, and hang red cloth on maple trees, to drive away the serious illness. When Miao people build their houses, they use maple trees as pillars of the house to wish for the prosperity of their children. If the maple tree stays alive, it signifies that the area is an auspicious area to live in. But if the tree dies, it is understood by locals to be an omen that the area is dangerous and should be abandoned quickly. All these are examples of the remains of Miao people’s cultural worship of maple trees.

The legendary “Mother Butterfly” laid 12 eggs, one of which was the distant ancestor of the Miao people. Images of flying butterflies are woven onto the chest area, shoulders, cuffs, and buttons of women’s clothing, which is the Miao people’s way of praying for protection from the “Mother Butterfly.” Since the maple tree has such a special kinship with the ancestors of the Miao people, it has become the totem of the Miao people, and images of the maple tree are widely used in decorations of the Miao people.

Silver ornaments are another feature of Miao people’s decorative adornment. For the Miao people, silver jewelry is not merely a beautiful decoration, they strongly believe that silver can ward off evil spirits and bring them good luck. Miao people singing and dancing dressed up in their glittering and jingling silver jewels is a scene that is quite pleasing to see and hear.

Today, there are more than 200 kinds of Miao costumes in Qiandongnan, which is the region with the largest variety of well-preserved Miao costumes in the world. It is called the “Miao Costume Museum.” The styles and designs on Miao people’s apparel record the ups and downs of their magnificent history and the accumulation of their rich culture. At the gate of Xijiang Ancient Village, the team that welcomes visitors wear no less than 20 different kinds of dazzling costumes.

During dragon boat races that are held on the Dragon Boat Festival in Shibing County on the Wuyang River, young Miao ladies who participate in the river dress show wear many varieties of traditional Miao dresses. One girl who was wearing a heavy necklace said it was very tiring to wear it and offered to allow me to put it on my neck. The silver decoration must have weighed at least a few kilograms. Each selection of Miao women’s clothing has its own unique beauty. Miao male clothing styles now look quite similar to that of Han Chinese, and even the elderly Miao people can be seen wearing traditional Han Chinese clothing. Handmade traditional Miao clothing is now usually only worn as costumes for performances.

(Source:China Today)