The Miao minority group of North West China revere silver. According to one Miao myth, it’s what the moon is made of. Silver symbolises light and health and is believed to drive out evil spirits, divert natural disasters and bring good fortune. Silver is also a symbol of wealth and prosperity. No wonder silver is regarded as the greatest of all metals and is a Miao family’s most prized possession.
The Miao have perfected the art of silver jewellery making on a grand scale. As a part of their storytelling culture, they make necklaces, rings, headdresses, earrings, combs, neckbands, bracelets, pendants and waist hoops – and then, wear them all at once!
For more than 400 years, since the Chinese Ming Dynasty, it has been a Miao custom for girls and women to dress themselves from head to toe with silver.
Left of course for special occasions, a full set of silver adornments can weigh up to ten kilo! The purpose of wearing all this silver is partly aesthetic – the more silver the more beautiful, but it is also worn as amulets to ward off evil, as symbols of wealth and as a part of the Miao tradition of visual storytelling through their crafts and costumes. With patterns ranging from ancestral totems to mystical animals conveying historic legends, every element of Miao traditional clothing relays a strong cultural message, including their extravagant silver.
It starts at birth. As soon as a Miao baby is born they are gifted with a silver necklace to warn off evil spirits. When infants are bathed, parents place a piece of silver into the water to act as a blessing for the baby’s future. If they have girls, families start saving up extravagant pieces of jewellery for them to wear on their wedding day. Originally to symbolise a family’s wealth, this custom is still practiced today but more so to uphold their cultural tradition.