During a trip to one of the remotest Hani villages in Xishuangbana Prefecture, Ms Zhao Fei found an old man seated on a bark tree cloth cushion. Surprised, she asked him about the origin of this cushion, the old man answered that in the past, as they were very poor, and some people have no money to buy clothes, it was somehow common to make cloth from bark tree.
This fascinated discovery is the start and reason of the first book of Zhao Fei “Muma qiaozi”, Favorite sons of Muma (the Hani goddess). The book, mainly a photo book but with a well conceived textual guide to the reader comprises of several introductory chapters about the life of the Aini - Akha people in the village of Mango, Mengla County. Especially interesting is the clear description of the importance of the village gate to the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the villagers.
Taking again the main theme in the book, Zhao Fei explains the reader how the old man Dan Nong agreed to show the whole process of fabrication of a bark cloth, and how his son, Nong Cai, carried on the whole process. The most suitable tree to make this bark cloth is the Antiaris toxicaria, which, as its name suggest, it was known to the Hani also for the potent poison present in its fruits and other parts of the tree.
The full process of making cloth from the tree’s bark involves 4 main steps.
- The first is to select a tree in the forest. Once selected two small incisions are made in its bark, and later the outer part of it will be carefully peeled, showing a white inner peel. To peel of this new layer, it must be cut in two sections up on the tree trunk and down on the trunk, leaving a fringe of about 90 cm long. Working slowly this second layer is separated off the trunk, in a laborious process that can take the best part of one day.
- The second step is the cleaning of cloth. In a nearby river the tree bark is soaked once and again, and shook between as many times as considered necessary to render a cloth wet and clean.
-The third step is the drying; a process that last about a week in which the human intervention is minimum. Only to extend the cloth between two tree branches and hung a big stone on each end to increase the softness and the size of the cloth.
- Once the cloth is dry, can be cut according to the designs desired, to make skirts, jackets, blankets, cushion, bags or caps.
All this process is perfectly documented in the book with hundreds of pictures.
Zhao Fei. Mumaqiaozi (姆玛轿子哈尼族人文图典). Favorite son of Muma. Yunnan Nationalities Press. 2011.
Muma is the main goddess and ancestor of the Hani.