Dresses and accessories mark the lifestyles and production levels of the people of a geographic region during a historical period, and they vividly reflect the people's customs and aesthetic tastes. Headdresses play an important role in defining people and their cultures. The brilliant headdresses of China's minorities vary greatly, and each headdress reveals unique ethnical features, history, belief and culture. Through this article, we attempt to give you get a glimpse of the beautiful headdresses of some minorities, so that you may enjoy the unique beauty of this aspect of Chinese culture.
A Long History
Man began wearing headdresses long ago. The Chinese character "美" (beauty) is shaped like a person wearing a sheep's head, with two horns or long plumes. Such headdresses, as a matter of fact, are common among minorities in China — even in modern times.
On the precipitous cliffs by Mengdong River, in Cangyuan County of China's Yunnan Province, where the Wa people live, are Cangyuan rock paintings. They are among the nation's most ancient rock paintings. Among the 700-plus distinct figures, the tallest are wearing headdresses, some of which are even taller than the figures. The headdresses include oxhorns, antlers, oxtails, the tails of deer and tigers and birds' feathers. The chronicles of the Ming and Qing dynasties provide clear evidence, including descriptions, of the headdresses of the Jinuo and Jingpo people, and the head gear of many other minorities.
Extensive Raw Materials
There is very little variety in the raw materials — including precious metals, such as gold, silver and their alloy replicas; and jade, diamonds, precious stones, pearls and coral — used to create modern headdresses. Although some new materials, such as plastic and pottery, have been used to make headdresses in recent years, the headgear has not become popular.
However, the materials used by China's minorities to make headdresses are richer, and most of those materials are from local resources. Despite the diverse forms and grotesque shapes, the raw materials used by the minorities come from three major sources: Animals, plants and/or minerals. Claws and teeth are also used to make headdresses, in addition to flowers, leaves, bamboo and wooden slices and sticks, and even whole fruit. Minerals include various types of gravel and stone, and metals, such as bronze, iron, gold and silver. In addition, some non-metal materials, such as jade and coral, and cotton and wool products, such as floss and thread, are also used.
Varied, Colorful Forms
The headdresses of China's minorities are varied — and colorful. For example, the Mongolians, both men and women, decorate their hair with precious stones, coral and jasper. In Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the Kirgiz women wear silver dollars and bronze pearls on their heads, and unmarried girls decorate their hats with pearls, tassels, and three or four feathers. Elderly women wear silver dollars and key pendants on their braids. The Tajiks often put silver chains on the brims of their hats, and Tatars' headdresses are made of old silver coins and metal plates. Tibet's Monba women use colorful strings of beads as ornaments for their heads, while the men wear magnificent hats with peacocks' feathers around the brims. The Qiang people, meanwhile, wear silver or steel hairpins, while the Bai people wear silver or jade hairpins. In addition to silver hairpins, the Dai women like to use bright-colored plastic flowers or combs and fresh flowers to decorate their hair. Gaoshan women wear crests, wreaths or silver hats that match their dresses.
The Yi, who live in Sichuan Province's Daliangshan area, stress headdresses have become part of a unique culture that includes totems and animal and/or plant worship. Yi women change their headdresses several times throughout their lives, in part to reveal their age and status. For example, unmarried Yi girls wear cockscomb-shaped hats; married Yi women, lotus-leaf-shaped ones.
Yi people have a penchant for learning from other ethnic groups. For example, the Yi women in Meigu County, Liangshan Prefecture, wear wide-rimmed bamboo hats with red tassels, which, legend has it, imitate the hats worn by officials of the Qing Dynasty. The hats are both beautiful and practical, and they can shield the wearer from sunshine and rain.
The Oroqen people, in Northeast China, who are well-known for their ability to hunt, regard antlers as the most beautiful headdress, usually worn by heads of their clan to symbolize power, courage and strength.
Women from a minority group called Man, love to wear flowers in their hair. They have a richer variety of hair ornaments, which look exquisite, such as large and small earpicks. The typical ruyi-shaped hairpin is made of silver, bone or bamboo, and one end resembles a glossy ganodema or leaf. The pin is inserted, horizontally through the hair.
"Bazhu", Tibetan women's typical headdress, with the most distinctive local features and rich cultural content, is made from precious stones or coral. According to customs, ceremonies are held when a girl wears "Bazhu" for the first. At that time, others will congratulate her on her reaching adulthood.
In addition to strings of beads and phoenix coronets, She women (who live in Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Guangdong provinces) wear silver headdresses that are shaped like "three swords" with sharp points. Folklore has it that each She woman — during the late Ming Dynasty when Japanese pirates invaded China — wore three short swords in her hair for self-defense. Nowadays, the She women still wear headdresses that resemble "three swords" to show their courage and purity.
The headdresses of the Miao people are among the most exquisite and beautiful in China. A Miao woman's silver hat, with two horns from a buffalo, symbolizes ox worship. As much as three jin of silver is used to make the headdress.