|Miao embroidery: history and mythology in a piece of cloth|
Liu Zhongchang is a Miao woman. Together with her husband, she is running a store on the banks of Cuihu Lake, in Kunming, where they deal with fabrics of the Miao and of other minorities of China. For them the culture of the minorities is not a business but a passion. In this section she provides us a brief explanation about the inherent symbolism in a Miao jacket. It is not a common jacket, but between their cloths they still have others similar to it. (Chang E Embroidery. 51, Cuihu South Rd.)
a Miao jacket. It comes from the Miao region of Shitong Village, in Taijiang
County, Guizhou Province.
of embroidery used to make these drawings is the method called "Posha".
This is a technique often used by Miao women in regions west of Hunan
Province and southeastern Guizhou Province. Shitong Village is particularly
famous for using this method. A silk thread is split into several finer
threads that are used later for embroidery, giving the cloth a nice shine
and a singular appearance. Later on the cloth is dyed and cooked in hot
water with Chinese honey locust. The Chinese honey locust makes the cloth
not become raveled, and it makes it appear softer and more shining. Two
days later, when it is already cold, the designs are embroidered on the
surface of that cloth.
The back of this jacket has nine circles, each one makes reference to an episode related with the history and the mythology of the Miao.
We can see here in detail the narrative organization of the stories included in this cloth. In the center we see one of the most popular heroines of the Miao people. According to our legends she was born from a clam in a river.
This figure of the inferior part of this cloth makes reference to a Miao personage very famous between us. His name is Zhang Xiumei. We can see him riding on a great dragon, with a sword in the hand, ready to make war to our enemies.
Here we see a scene of our mythology, in which a cow turns into a dragon. Its body has been already completely transformed, but we see that its head and its horns are still those of a cow. The artist represents one of the last stages of its transformation.
Here we see a Chinese unicorn. It is an auspicious animal. Our legends tell that many, many, years ago, when there were neither people nor water. A hero riding on a unicorn, opened the mountain with his knife, letting the water flow.
This cloth is completely conserved, with all the original embroidery, because the owner thinks that if her children forget the way to embroider or the old histories of the Miao, observing this garment they will be able to remember. The sleeves also have embroideries related with the history and mythology of the Miao.
This bird is called "Ñong Jibong" in Miao language. According to our legends in the old times the Miao hid in a cave of the mountain a treasure of gold and silver. The traditions say that only riding in this bird one will be able to get the treasure.
is called "Xong gong" in the Miao language. Our legends say
that a long time ago in the sky there were twelve suns and twelve moons.
People could not work with so much heat, and many were about to die. This
person, without losing the hope, ate nine cakes and flew up to the sky.
Then he used his arch to shot arrows to eleven suns and eleven moons,
destroying them. In such a way that now there are only a sun and a moon.
His history is conserved in the songs of the Miao.
A long time ago in the world there was nothing. All around was black. It didn't exist the day. Everything was night. They decide to use gold to make the sun, and silver to make the moon.
This is the story of the bird Jiwei Niao. In the old times, when there were still not people, the Miao called the butterfly "mama". The butterfly was born from a Chinese sweet gum tree. The butterfly is the ancestor of the Miao. Then the butterfly laid 12 eggs, but she cannot brood them. This bird Jiwei Niao, seated on the 12 eggs during twelve years. Of those eggs the twelve animals of the zodiac were born. But the bird was so tired of brood them so much time, that all its feathers dropped. After ending up its twelve years of incubation the Jiwei Niao saw very beautiful feathers grew again, as a magnificent brocade, with the figure of the butterfly and the bird. Everywhere people Miao respect the butterfly and the bird Jiwei. Everywhere, anytime, they keep their esteem to these two animals. As we see in this drawing.
is a kind of embroidery that can be translated as "counting the threads".
Because, with a very simple loom, women make a home-made cloth counting
three threads. Then they carry out the "embroidery of piling"
or "duixiu" and wash it in hot water with Chinese honey locust
so that it is not raveled, and it becomes shine and soft. Then they fold
it in triangles and squares, bend it and pile it.
In this figure we see a swastika. It is an auspicious sign, because it means "ten thousand blessings"
In this figure we see a fish that is about to become a dragon.
In this design we see a unicorn. One person with his knife ready is riding on it, he goes to make war against the Chinese. I think is an hero related to the wars of 19th century. As it is an auspicious animal, it is expected that it will help him to reach the victory.
narrates the history of a new war in the old times. Miao people's clothes,
anyway, always show special esteem for the butterfly, the bird Jiwei and
our heroine Wen Maoxi. And their images are always in our clothes. Our
legends tell that a star fell in the roof of her house. After three days,
she was born of her mother. She grew very quick and she married a young.
In that time, the Miao were in war with the Han that have invaded their lands. Her husband went to the war, and she went with him. The dragon and other animals protect her. In the battles she is shown defeating the enemies with her umbrella. She had born a baby that later on will also make war. Always helped by Mountain Dragon and the Water Dragon, she can stand in their umbrella and make war to their enemies. She was fighting heroically, defeating the powerful enemies, when her husband died heroically. Then she left the fight.
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