Date of this Version
Published in Textile Society of America 2014 Biennial Symposium Proceedings: New Directions: Examining the Past, Creating the Future, Los Angeles, California, September 10–14, 2014,
This innovative work explores several intriguing topics new to the field of textiles. Based on multiple field studies conducted from 1999-2013 in the northern Vietnam provinces of Cao Bang and Ha Giang and the southwestern China provinces of Guangxi and Yunnan, this paper is unprecedented in its approach as a comparative study of ethnic dress among kinship groups living along both sides of the Vietnam-China borderline. It is also unique in its focus on the Flowery Lolo, Black Lolo, Red Lolo and White Lolo, small subgroups of ethnic minorities who remain unknown to outsiders. The identities and histories of these groups are complicated by the political categorization of the Lolo in China into a much larger ethnic group known as “Yi”, while their kin in Vietnam remain known as “Lolo.” Confusion about their identities is further compounded by the existence of a larger, more documented Yi subgroup in Sichuan Province, China, whose members were once also known as Black Lolo and White Lolo. Technically, these borderlands Lolo/Yi kin are citizens of different countries, divided by borderlines created beyond their control for over two hundred years. However, similar ethnic dress still worn on both sides of the Vietnam-China border provides tantalizing evidence of a common ancestry and demonstrates the perseverance of these groups to maintain their distinct cultural legacies. Common elements of dress between different subgroups - such as the cut of the garments, motifs and designs, and textile techniques - suggest the interrelatedness between these subgroups. As a visual representation of family and home that defies boundaries, ethnic dress is a vivid expression of group allegiance and ancestral ties. For these ethnic minority groups who are unknown outside of their small communities, familial connections are even more crucial to their well-being--providing continuity, distinction, and a sense of place.