Baiku Yao Women's Dresses as Beautiful as 'Flying Butterflies'

May 12, 2014
By Zhang Xiaoning and Gu WentongEditor: Amanda Wu
Baiku Yao Women's Dresses as Beautiful as 'Flying Butterflies'
Baiku Yao women []

Baiku Yao, an offshoot of the Yao minority group, is so named because the male members wear white trousers. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) refers to Baiku Yao as the ethnic minority group that best retains its folk culture in the world. The Baiku Yao, as a subgroup of the Yao, is referred to as the "living fossil of human civilization" by many historians.

Nandan County, in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is home to the Baiku Yao. Countless people throughout the world are curious about the Baiku Yao's primitive lives and production methods.

You will no doubt be impressed by the residents' simple, beautiful clothes if you visit a Baiku Yao village. For generations, Baiku Yao women have completed the complicated procedures — including weaving and dying the cloth, drawing the patterns on the cloth, and embroidering the patterns and then sewing the cloth into clothes — by hand.

Although Baiku Yao people's clothes are simple, they contain unique features; for example, the clothes, which are generally blue and white, are made from hand-woven cotton or yarn. Baiku Yao women embroider seven patterns — such as waterwheels, vegetable gardens and cocks — on the clothes.

Baiku Yao women's clothes have five elements: An unlined upper garment, with no collar; sleeves and buttons, an embroidered vest, to be worn on the back; a pleated skirt; and, a waistband and leg wrappings. Given the complicated procedures used to make the ethnic clothes, it will generally take a woman more than one year to make an outfit.

Many Baiku Yao women, who wear pleated, knee-length skirts year round, look pretty. The exquisite skirts have been compared with "flying butterflies." Many Baiku Yao women are so gifted that they can quickly draw beautiful patterns on a piece of cloth. With heated, glutinous sap, they draw ring-shaped patterns on the wax-printed blue cloth, which is rimmed with red, embroidered patterns.

A Baiku Yao girl begins to learn, from her mother or a woman who can make clothes skillfully, how to draw and embroider patterns on clothes when she is 12 or 13. When she is 15 or 16, she begins to make her wedding dress. A Baiku Yao woman usually gets married when she is 17 or 18. A young Baiku Yao woman who wears exquisitely made clothes can easily win the heart of a young man.

The colorful square patterns embroidered on Baiku Yao women's vests are eye catching. The patterns, which represent an emperor's square seal during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), remind the people about how their ancestors were driven deep into the mountains by the chieftain's deceitful son-in-law.

After he stole the emperor's seal and replaced it with a false one, he forced his father-in-law to cede his land to him. When the irritated chieftain tried to use the seal to deploy forces, he discovered the seal was a false one, so he had to lead his people through the mountains.

Many Baiku Yao women take delight in washing clothes; while drying the clothes, on the big stones by the river, they often bathe and/or play in the water.

(Source: China Ethnic News/ Women of China English Monthly October 2013 Issue)

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