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Miao Festival Outfit

Guizhou Province is in southwestern China.

The Miao live high up in the mountains. Their villages are built into the hillside.

The terraced fields are farmed by hand, with the help of oxen and water buffalo.

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On the Move

For over three thousand years, migration has been a way of life for the Miao people. Originally the Miao lived in the Yellow River valley of northern China, but wars and conflicts forced them to keep moving south. Today more than four million Miao live high up in the mountains of Guizhou Province in small, remote villages cut off from the rest of society.

To survive in the mountainous terrain, the Miao practice “slash and burn” farming. Trees are cut down and the ground is burned so that crops can be grown. But the dry mountain soil cannot be worked very long before farmers need to search out new land. So the Miao continue to be on the move.

As a result of their migratory lifestyle, Miao people own very few things. Instead of cash, cars, or big-screen TVs, their most valued possessions are festival clothing and silver jewelry. These handmade garments and accessories proclaim the status and wealth of their owners. The different Miao villages and clans have distinctive colors, styles, and patterns of clothing. Outsiders refer to the Short-Skirt Miao, the Red-Band Miao, the Small-Flower Miao, and so on, identifying them by their costume.

Photos by Dan Dennehy, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Villages today are more permanent than in the past. Buildings are made of stone or wood.
November 2008