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Yunnan and Guizhou: Festivals and Ethnic Dress

April 30 – May 18, 2015, Group size: 12 –14 


This special Textile Odyssey tour highlights two Spring Festivals in Southwest China: the Miao Sisters Meals Festival in Guizhou Province and the Yi Costume Festival in Yunnan Province. These two provinces are home to more than half of China’s 56 ethnic groups, many of whom retain ancient textile traditions such as embroidery, applique, weaving, indigo-dyeing, calendaring, batik, spinning yarn, braiding, felting, and stitch-resist. Despite the modernization of China in its urban areas, many in the rural areas maintain their distinctive group dress, expressing pride in both their craftsmanship and their cultural legacy. As we travel through lush countryside and visit villages and towns, we catch glimpses of remarkable ancient ways of living that still exist in a nation that has only recently opened doors to its remote territories. We’ll witness southwest China’s surprisingly rich cultural diversity expressed in the distinctive ethnic dress and textiles of the Yi, Miao, Hani, Dai, Yao, Mongol, Bai, and Naxi minorities. As part of Textile Odyssey’s eco-tourism goals to bridge cultures, promote awareness of unique cultures and textile traditions, and provide new and unique tour itineraries, we’ll also explore off-the-beaten-path villages of seldom-visited subgroups of Yi and Yao. 


Guizhou (April 30- May 5, 2015)


We meet in Guiyang, Guizhou Province, where we join in the colorful festivities of the annual Miao Sister’s Meals Festival. This event is a photographer’s delight--a visual feast of lavish outfits worn by both men and women of the Miao minority. During these ancient rituals of romance and courtship, older family members help dress their eligible young women in finely crafted ethnic outfits, laden with elaborate silver necklaces and stunning headdresses which reflect their family wealth as well as the belief in the power of silver to ward off evil spirits. Other highlights in Guizhou include: a visit to a village of Red Miao, who are known for their beautifully embroidered garments and their tin-foil weaving and embroidery techniques; a demonstration of folded piecework techniques in the home of Miao artisans; museums with exhibits of local culture; and a private gallery with an extensive collection of ethnic outfits from this region. In the Kaili area, we’ll also find many hand-woven and finely embroidered textiles, handcrafted with techniques unique to the Dong, Geiji, and the many subgroups of Miao who have lived in Guizhou for centuries.


Yunnan (May 5 - May 18, 2015)


The frontier province of Yunnan borders Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos. Flying from Guiyang to Kunming, we’ll travel to several areas unknown to mainstream tourism. In the Ailao Mountains, we will be in the midst of spectacular rice terraces, ingeniously engineered and hand-sculpted by the Hani people in a tradition that dates back 2,500 years. Here we have opportunities to mingle among local ethnic groups in their villages and town markets. As they move about in the rhythm of their daily lives, we will see many people dressed in their distinctive group dress: among them are the Nisu Yi and Zhuang with their eye-catching “fanny flaps”; the Dai with their colorful embroidered leggings; the Yao Lanten with their bright pink, long fringe and their celestial crowns; and the Hani with their finely trimmed, braided borders and silver studded garments.  Other highlights in southern Yunnan include visits to: the Red-Hat Yao and the Indigo Yao, who live near the China-Vietnam border; a renovated Qing Dynasty mansion with its beautiful gardens, courtyards, and painted wood panels; and a Mongolian village, home to descendants of Kublai Khan.

Flying north from Kunming to the Lijiang and Dali area, we’ll travel to two seldom-visited Yi villages, each with their own unique group dress, and attend an annual Yi Costume Festival. These visits allow us the rare opportunity to learn a little about the Yi. Although the largest ethnic minority group in Yunnan, many of the Yi subgroups remain unknown to outsiders. Situated in a valley below the Jade Snow Dragon Mountains, the town of Lijiang was established 800 years ago and became known as a confluence for trade along the Ancient Tea Horse Trail. A blending of several cultures is reflected in the charming, historic architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Here we meet the Naxi, a matrilineal community whose legendary heroine Yinggu is immortalized by the seven star-moon emblems on Naxi capes. Dali, the ancient capital of the Bai kingdom of Nanzhao, is set against the backdrop of the breathtaking Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake. We’ll meet the Bai and see demonstrations of the various resist-dyeing techniques for which they are renown.  Our tour ends in Kunming with visits to the spectacular Yunnan Nationalities Museum and the Old Quarter of town.


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