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Fiber,Textile-Hemp, Ramie in Northwest Guizhou 

 According to historic documents and unearthed fiber materials, it is believed that hemp fiber has been started using since the New neolethic period in China-some 6000 years ago. As one of the most famous three ancient tribes of China, the Miao ancestors in the Chu kingdom of the Waring States period(475-221 BC) has already skillfully planted and used hemp. With the popular use of cotton in China, hemp fiber disappeared in central China and is stronly used by the Miao in southwest China, to be specific, the northwest of Guizhou.

1 Cutting hemp
1 Cutting hemp

When I was a little child, I still saw many Miao women in my village plant ramie for making clothes and shoes, however it's very, very hard to find this secret fiber in my village and nearby regions, just some Miao families in northwest Guizhou still keep this fiber and the skill-planting hemp, cutting hemp, scraping peel, drying hemp threads, twisting threads, winding threads and weaving threads. it seems it will be seen no more soon in those remote regions, for this purpose, I decide to write this article and share some of my pictures with you.To be frank, I've been to northwest Guizhou for exploring Miao's fibers and textiles lots of times, at least once to three times a year since 1998, of course I really enjoyed my trip to those regions and I like them. But I never had an idea to write an article about that region, recently I found many, many Miao families there don't grow hemp, ramie any more, I need to do something, then there came the chance, last October, Tessa Bunney-a British photographer went to that region with me to take some pictures of Miao fibers and embroidery stitches, I was the tour operator and guide for her, I also took some great pictures, so here the story goes.  

2 Removing leaves
2 Removing leaves

Usually the Miao harvest-cut hemp or ramie twice or three times a year, some regions, twice a year, some regions, three times, for instance, the Big Flower Miao and the Red thread Miao's regions, it's three times a year, the Small flower Miao and the Long Skirt Miao's region(my region), it's two times a year. some regions in Southeast Guizhou, it's also twice a year. Generally speaking, the first time of harvesting is on the late 5th or early 6th lunar month, the second time is on the 9th lunar month. If they harvest three times a year, the first time would be on the 5th lunar month, the 7th lunar month for the second time and 10th lunar month for the third time. But it's unnecessary to grow hemp or ramie every year, because the roots are still left in the fields when stems are cut, the young plants can grow from the old roots.

After cutting the hemp stems and removing leaves, Miao women can peel the skin immediately on the same day, some regions, they can keep at home or outside the house for a while such as 20-30 days, I saw Miao women scrape the skin at once on the same day in the Big Flower Miao villages and Red Thread Miao villages, but I also saw Miao women in the Long Horned Miao villages scrape skin when the hemp stems are very drying. I don't why they do it in different ways, but from the point of mine and my mother, we do think it's more easy to scrape the skin when they are just cut from the fields and fresh, my mother had already practised this skill for many years since about 50 years ago, and just stopped 15 years ago.

3 Scraping inner bast from bark
3 Scraping inner bast from bark

After getting inner basts from hemp stems, Miao women burn rice straw to get some ash, then use a piece of cloth to wrap the ash and boil them together with basts. After that, they clean the basts with fresh water and dry in the sun. My mother says the purpose of using rice straw ash is to let the basts more white. In some regions, hemp threads are coated with beeswax to make shoes.

In different areas, Miao women have different tools for twisting, winding, spinning and weaving hemp threads. When Tessa Bunney and me got to a Big Flower Miao village, we found only two families still grow hemp and ramie in the whole village, a some 130 family village, we tried hard to find a home, and they agreed to take a very old wooden tool for winding hemp yarn from the inside of the house. They also brought us an old loom and give us the demonstration of weaving hemp. It seems they don't use those tools for a while. I heard some Miao in the south of Sichuan use a bamboo basket for winding hemp yarn, but I have never been there and never saw one beforIn different areas, Miao women have different tools for twisting, winding, spinning and weaving hemp threads. When Tessa Bunney and me got to a Big Flower Miao village, we found only two families still grow hemp and ramie in the whole village, a some 130 family village, we tried hard to find a home, and they agreed to take a very old wooden tool for winding hemp yarn from the inside of the house. They also brought us an old loom and give us the demonstration of weaving hemp. It seems they don't use those tools for a while. I heard some Miao in the south of Sichuan use a bamboo basket for winding hemp yarn, but I have never been there and never saw one before.

4 Peeling bark from stem
4 Peeling bark from stem

In the Miao villages in the northwest of Guizhou, after weaving hemp, they use hemp cloth for making women's skirts, jackets and men's aprons, lobes or turbans. They said hemp is more durable. During festivals or market days, you still can a few old Miao people in hemp clothes, but many of the young girls start to wear a kind of very new material sold at the market, it became the young's favourite. It's too sad to see the Miao begin to forget this secret and precious tradition-growing hemp. I hope the pictures I took with Tessa Bunney will be a treasure for them in some day in the future, maybe this will make me feel much better, because I'm also Miao, I'm also from the countryside and grew up there, that's my homeland. As tree leaves fall to the ground while trees are old, I will go back to my village and spend my last life time when I get old.

For exchanging Miao textile or embroidery stitches information or even making tours with me, for private tours, just contact me, see my website http:// www.alongdiscovery.com for more information.

Please remember the Miao I wrote on the articles live in a very remote region, the road is bad and there is little travel information about them, many farmers raise dogs for guarding their homes, and they usually are busy working in the fields since early morning, so the region is not encouraged to visit. If you really have interests and you don't mind traveling on bad road and staying at just ok hotels, you can go there. To find a real Guizhou travel expert is very ne cessary.

5 Twisting and connecting hemp threads Twisting hemp threads Winding threads
5 Twisting and connecting hemp threads Twisting hemp threads Winding threads
Twisting and connecting hemp threads Winding threads on a strange wooden tool Winding threads
Winding threads Winding threads on a strange wooden tool Winding threads
Weaving hemp threads on a loom Tony-the contributor with a local Miao woman
Weaving hemp threads on a loom   Tony-the contributor with a local Miao woman
Taking bast from a bamboo basket and Twisting Threads after boiling with rice straw ash A Miao woman carrying tools Twisting and connecting hemp threads
Taking bast from a bamboo basket and Twisting Threads after boiling with rice straw ash A Miao woman carrying tools Twisting and connecting hemp threads
Hemp threads kept in well shape Winding threads to a simple tool Weaving hemp threads on a loom  
Hemp threads kept in well shape Winding threads to a simple tool Weaving hemp threads on a loom  

 

 

 


   

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All texts and image by Chen Hualong Email: alongdiscovery@hotmail.com tony6868@163.com
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