Two weeks ago, we attended a seminar given by Elisabeth Chau-hua Ho, a Textile and Clothing professor at the Fu Jen University (Taiwan) about her ‘one year experience’ in a small province on Shidong Area, China.
Originally from Taiwan, Professor Ho and her friend/colleague decided to swap their normal lives and families for simpler life surrounded by unknown people and a very different culture compared to what they were used to.
These two professors studied the Miao culture in depth, specially their clothing and jewelry, since that is how they characterize themselves.
It was very interesting to see how this small village lived and I imagine what an experience must have been for them.
Even thou the professor had studied ‘Miao’s dialect’, communication was still a difficulty, but overcome by their hospitality and good will of helping.
According to the professor, Women were the ones that ‘controlled the money’- this not only because women apparently had a ‘fortunate fate’, but also because they were the ones who would carry everyday a couple of heavy silver ornaments (and I say ‘fortunate fate’ because apparently, they believed that women would go straight to heaven when dead, but the men needed to work hard in order to ‘get inside heaven’).
Women did not have to leave for work but their ‘house duties’ would keep them pretty busy. They did not only have to do all the house chores, but were also responsible to make all the clothing. Believed to be a humiliation to buy clothes since clothing and their hair style was the way they would demonstrate their identity, women in this village managed to do weaving, embroidery, knitting and dying.
Each one had their special role while manufacturing their clothing, however, techniques such as Embroidery could only be done in Summer, as a result, clothes would probably take 1 to 2 years to be completed.
An interesting fact that the professor mentioned was that women were not allowed to speak to men about clothing. This because, for them clothing symbolized their body, leading to sexual matters.
Girls would get married on average, when they reached their 20’s max, and had to carry as much silver ornaments as possible in order to find a good candidate. A candidate that even though they wouldn’t admit, it was somehow a ‘far relative’(according to the professor, they would marry people from their families, but not closely related, so that the silver offered by the bridal’s family would stay within the family).
The word Silver in Chinese, sounds like ‘meat’ being almost like a ‘daily necessity’. It was brought from Hunan Province and at the village they would design the ornaments with great detail in order to be peculiar and precious. Just recently they started using gold as well but gold would only symbolizes that they were ‘inside the trend’, since it was a foreigner recourse.
Her work inspired me so much, especially her attitude of giving up everything and just stay in this village with the purpose of coming back to give this village ‘a voice’ for the rest of the world.
who's voice do you plan to speak for?