Silver Ornaments Making of the Miao Ethnic Group
The Miao ethnic group"s silver ornaments are second to none, both in terms of quantity and variety. Miao women"s festive attire includes a variety of silver decorations, weighing as much as 15 kilos! The purpose of wearing all this silver is of course primarily aesthetic, but it also shows affluence and is thought to ward off evil spirits. The aesthetic and elegant silver ornaments can be found everywhere across the Miao-inhabiting regions, especially in Leishan County of Southwest China"s Guizhou Province and Phoenix County of Central China"s Hunan Province.
While usually worn by women, the Miao ethnic minority"s silverware is made by men. Categorized by functions, there are headwear, chest and neck decorations, hand decorations, clothing decorations, and foot decorations. Their headwear includes silver horns, fans, caps, kerchiefs, silver hairpins, pins flowers, chains, combs, earrings, and bonnet ornaments. The level of craftsmanship ranges from relatively basic styles seen in some of the bracelets and neckbands to very delicate skilful work used to make silver bells, flowers, birds, butterflies, needles, bubbles, chains, and earrings.
Because the Miao silverware producing regions have no natural silver resources, the hardworking Miao people used to melt almost all the silver coins and ingots they earned. This led to different levels of silver purity as currencies differed from region to region. From the 1950s, the government began to regularly allocate special silver to the Miao people as a sign of respect for their tradition and customs.
Making silver ornaments is complicated and requires exquisite craftsmanship. First smelt silver, and slice it into thin flakes or threads. The silver ornaments finally come into being after the silver slices are chiseled, filed, enchased, and forged. The Miao silversmiths are not only good at smelting and forging, but also skilled at designing. The design of the silver decorations is largely inspired by other art forms such as embroidery andwax printing. The silversmiths consistently improve and enrich the patterns while keeping the traditional designs.
However, the status quo of the Miao silver ornaments making is not so optimistic. The skill of designing and forging silver ornaments has only passed down within family members. The experienced silver craftsmen are aging and more Miao youth turn to other well-paid business to make fortune. This bleak situation calls for urgent protection of this traditional art form of the Miao ethnic group.