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Trip Review for China

A Silhouette of Tibetan Costumes

Age-old Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is where Tibetan, Moinba minority, Lhoba minority etc. live for generations. Majestic Himalayas and wide Brahmaputra River help to bring up their bold and unstrained character and unique clothing culture.

It is hard to generalize Tibetan costumes with just one or two styles of clothes and adornments. For long time, because of Tibet’s vast land and inconvenient traffic, Tibetan costumes in different regions are far more difficult to sum up than people expect. On the contrary, Tibetan clothes are of various types, styles and colors.

One of the most typical Tibetan clothes is the Tibetan robe, which is common among people of different sex and age. It has a long robe body. The robe pail is covered with surface cloth with edgings and no pockets and buttons. In daily days, men’s robes mostly are plain surface and inlaid with wide black edgings. In festive occasions, edgings are colored. Women’s robes are more colorful. The material used in the most representative edgings is a kind of wool fabric with delicate colors and patterns. Especially for Tibetan herdsman robe’s edgings, they usually use color blocks of blue, green, purple, black, orange and beige color to form a multicolored ribbon. The shoulder, lower hem and cuff of a lady robe are usually decorated with stripes in yellow, red, green and purple of about 10cm. They often use complementary colors, such as red and green, black and white, yellow and purple. Sometimes, they even interweave gold and silver threads inside strong contrasting colors. The bright and harmonious artistic effect displayed by Tibetan robes impresses people deeply.

In places like Tibetan area in Qinghai Province, Gannan area in Gansu Province and Tianzhu and Aba area in Sichuan, men like to use leopard skin as adornments. It is said that this is related with the military life in Tubo Kingdom Period. At that time, tiger skins and leopard skins were used to reward brave soldiers and people with great contributions while fox tails were used to insult dastards and deserters. The typical climate in tableland is cold in morning and evening, but hot in noon, so no matter men or women, they like to take off the right sleeve and tie it around the waist when weather gets hot in noon. In this way, it could dispel heat, and adjust body temperature. In the past, men bared their body inside robes. Their swarthy and strong arms display the rusticity and sturdiness of the tableland people. Along with the raising of life quality and under the influence of modern city, Tibetan men become accustomed to wear white shirts inside robes in external communication or in festive occasions. Women wear cloth jackets of different small flower patterns inside the robe with one shoulder and arm being exposed outside. This is the kind of typical Tibetan clothes that we are familiar with.

Besides Tibetan robes, there is another kind of typical costume called “Bangdan” in Lhasa, Rikaze area and vast Kangba Area. This is a kind of long apron that is tied around waist and hung from front waist to lower hem of the skirt. The apron is sewn by three separate vertical pieces and on each piece there are colorful horizontal stripes patterns. Also made of wool fabric, this type of apron has horizontal stripes of different width. Scarlet, verdure, blue, lemon yellow, purple and white colors alternate regularly to form the pattern. The apron shines faintly, giving the feel of sunshine.

As for Tibetan hairstyle, some hang down loosely and some make plaits. People in agricultural area mostly do two plaits, while people from pasturing area do multi-plaits. Generally speaking, Tibetan women in many areas hang long hair down to the shoulder. Long hair, faces of suntan, thick eyebrows, big eyes and high noses altogether form a charming image of tableland women. Men nowadays mostly cut hair short. In the past, they wrapped plaits around head top or decorated hair at back with rings made of elephant tooth or ox bone. The primitive wildness shown in their hairstyle is unique to Tibetan tableland.

Adornments are an indispensable part of Tibetan costumes. There are a dazzling variety of adornments including head adornments, ear adornments, chest adornments, waist adornments and finger rings. And materials they use are very rich including gold, silver, pearl, agate, jade, turquoise, silk, emerald, coral, honey wax and amber etc. The most representative one is the “Ba pearl,” a kind of triangle or bow shape head adornment. In the past, noble people use pearls or gem stones while common people use coral. The first time a girl starts to wear a Ba pearl, a solemn ritual will be held because it signifies that the girl is a grow-up and ready for marriage. Many beads, silver chains, silver plates etc. that Tibetan people hang in front of the chest are related with Buddhism. Bead adornments are Buddhist beads. In addition, everyone will wear a talismanic silver Buddhist box to hold the protective Buddhist figure or bodhisattva figure.

Tibetan people usually gird strings of metal knifes, boxes for steel for flint and many other silver adornments around the waist. Among them, broadswords and waist hooks are two kinds of unique adornments for Tibetan men and women. With a long history, Tibetan swords are in different length general from longer than 1 meter to 40-70cm, and some shorter than 40cm. A Tibetan knife or sword has many functions. A long sword could be used for selfprotection and a short sword could be used to kill cattle and sheep, to peel off skin and to cut meat and vegetables. A small knife could be used as tableware. Not only very sharp, Tibetan swords are also exquisitely handmade with delicate adornments. The hilt part is covered with ox horn, animal bone or hard wood and then wrapped with silver or copper wires and hoop with bronze hull or iron hull. Some are decorated with silver adornments. The materials used for sheath and the ways of production are also very exquisite. Sheathes are mostly covered with copper or silver and then carved with lucky patterns of dragons, phoenixes, tigers, lions and flowers. Some are covered with sharkskin and inlaid with precious gems such as turquoise, coral and agate. A more common practice is to inlay a piece of yak horn on the knife shank.

Besides girding broadswords, women in Rikaze region also like to carry waist hooks usually made by silver or bronze. The shape of a waist hook is flat and long with both ends in the shape of ruyi (an S-shaped ornamental object, usually made of jade, formerly a symbol of good luck) or diamond shape ruyi. No matter in what shape, there is a ring under the waist hook, which is not only an ornamental object, but also used to hang things. The patterns on waist hooks not only have motifs of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the treasure bottle, wheel and deer, but also traditional Han motifs such as the phoenix bird, lion and dragon. Among these patterns, there is one called “four brothers getting along well,” which originated from a Tibetan folk story. In ancient time, elephants, lions, rabbits and little birds were not able to obtain enough fruits for food due to atrocious weather. Later they united together to work hard, and finally obtained enough fruits. The harvest they obtained is not only material, but also spiritual. Through animal figures and the scene of picking up fruits together, it tells that people should make concerted effort so that they could coexist peaceful.

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