The Bai women are excellent embroiderers and a girl's embroidery has been the measure of her skills. The women call it spreading flowers.
They combine stitches of all sorts with batik, tie dye, gold and silver plate thread, and 3-dimensional applique among other techniques. The Bai men dress like other men in China, but the Bai women proudly wear their traditional clothing and sell their work to neighboring ethnic groups and to visitors.
Each area has a slightly different style. "Those living in villages in Dali and hamlets on the eastern shores of Lake Erhai wear fishtail-shaped or phoenix-shaped caps....
A legend tells that there were once twin sisters in a Bai village who were pretty and diligent. At the time of a bumper harvest, their beauty attracted flocks of birds coming to bow to the phoenix, the king of birds. The gold phoenix gave its cap to the girls, which made them look even more beautiful. But the elder girl was caught by the jealous king and died in the palace.To avenge her, her younger sister, wearing the phoenix cap, entered the palace and killed the tyrannical king. To remember the beautiful and industrious girl, women in some Bai areas wear phoenix-shaped caps even today."
Silver plate thread detail.
Detail of front crest with uniquely Bai figure.
This child's 3-dimensional applique butterfly hat has human hair for it's antennae.
A baby girl "wears colorful clothes, the embroidered goupiyi (baby clothes of the Bai that symbolize healthy development) made by her mother and grandmother" including a fishtail-shaped cap, or a phoenix-head or lion-head cap decorated with images of Buddhas or drums made of silver or jade (or green plastic) and patterns of animals, birds, flowers and fish.
The Bai people say, "A horse needs a saddle to look good; people need beautiful clothes".
All quotes are from Daughters of Mount Changshan and Erhai Lake, The Bais, by Yang Guocai.
Links in this site:
Browse China: Bai baby-carriers | Bai hats | Bai woodblock prints
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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/