Living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for centuries, the Tibetans have created their own unique garments and adornments that suit the land, the weather and the way of life on the roof of the world.
Tibetan clothing and adornments are essentially identical from one place to another.
But the adornments of the Amdo area, which includes the Tibetan autonomous counties and prefectures in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan Province and in northwest China's Gansu and Qinghai provinces, stand out for their lavishness and excellence.
Various styles of hats
As in other Tibetan-inhabited areas, there are various kinds of hats in Amdo.
There are winter and summer hats, suited to the changing seasons.
But they are also sorted into different categories, such as common hats, hats for artists, for monks and for herdsmen.
They follow four major styles: four-flap hats, hats made of fox fur, bowler-shaped hats, and lambskin hats.
The four-flap hat, called naxi in Tibetan, and usually made of black woollen cloth, gets its name because it has four symmetrical U-shaped flaps.
Most of the men and women in the Amdo area wear this kind of hat, and in fact it is currently popular in all regions of Tibet.
The men's hat is round and tall, and women's is elliptical and relatively lower.
The hats are trimmed with golden satin in leafy lines or ripples.
The Tibetans wear fox fur hats in winter. In farming areas, they divide a fox skin in half and make two hats. The hat is about 30 centimeters high, black-colored, with folds on its top. Fox fur is sewed to the lower part of the bell-shaped hat and the fur can be folded up and tied.
In pasture areas, the Tibetan nomads make fox fur hats using a complete fox skin. They are tall, round-topped with no folds, the top simply hanging at the back of the head.
In some other areas, a complete fox skin is simply processed and wrapped around the head, and the fur of the head, tail and limbs of the fox are tied behind, with the tail hanging behind one ear of the wearer.
The herdsmen also like to wear bowler-style hats, with snap fasteners on each side of the hat and on the brim.
Lambskin hats are also common among the nomadic Tibetans in pasturing areas. They are made of top quality lamb pelt of solid color. They are inexpensive and are made in various shapes. Usually, lambskin is sewed to the lower part and its width is about the same as the height of the hat body. The lambskin part is either folded up and tied or allowed to hang down.
The material used for the body of these hats varies with the preferences of the wearers.
Tibetan people like wearing robes. Amdo robes are almost the same as those in other Tibetan areas. Generally, there are five types: robes made of pulu (colorfully striped panels of hand- woven wool), lambskin, sheepskin, wool, or other materials.
The pulu robes are the most common, but their quality varies with the different wool used in making them.
The pulu fabrics produced in the area around Lhasa are the most famous. Aristocrats and feudal lords in the old days usually wore this kind of robe when participating in important activities.
The robes made of pulu in Amdo are mainly deep red in color and very warm. The material, stout and durable, can be worn in every season and sheds rain as well.
The local Tibetans often put on lambskin robes for ceremonial and festive occasions.
Lambskin is ranked into several qualities according to the length of the hair, the degree of curliness, and the quality of the skin.
Lambskins of uniform quality are used in making a robe. Generally, more than 40 pieces of lambskin are needed to make a medium-class Tibetan lambskin robe.
There are two main colors -- white or black. Nowadays, the black lambskin robes are considered more valuable.
Sheepskin robes are either made of goatskin or sheepskin.
Women in agricultural areas usually wear goatskin robes. Since the quality of sheepskin varies in different seasons, it is classified into winter sheepskin, summer sheepskin and autumn sheepskin.
Woolen robes are usually made with the inner layer of sheep's wool, so they are light and warm.
Cloth robes are popular in the agricultural areas of lower altitude and warmer temperatures. They are cool and comfortable.
There are two kinds of shirts worn under the robes -- the kind with buttons on the right and the kind with buttons down the front. Monks or those who have a predestined relationship with Buddha often wear shirts of orange or light yellow.
Adornments are usually used on plaited hair, the collar, cuffs, the edges of garments, and around the waist.
There are many kinds of plait adornments. Headgear made of coral and amber is viewed as the best, and is mostly worn by young girls.
Plait adornments for women are usually seen in areas of northern Amdo. Large pieces of coral and agate are arranged at regular intervals down the plaits, with gold and silver accessories between them.
Women in pastoral areas pay great attention to plait adornments, and women in agricultural areas regard the headdress as their key adornment.
The headdress prevalent in agricultural areas is rectangular, and is about 12 to 13 centimeters wide.
There are two types of headdress used by women in pastoral areas. The bigger type is rectangular with six bowl-shaped silver shields at the centre and 23 small bowl-shaped silver shields arranged around it, and red fringes on the bottom. The smaller type is square in shape, and set with valuable pieces of agate, coral, turquoise and so on. It also has red fringes on the bottom.
There are also earrings set with coral and turquoise in the Amdo area.
Pendants in the Amdo area feature a large piece of coral or gemstone in the middle, which is a symbol of wealth.
The fringes of robes are frequently trimmed with pieces of otter skin and set off by colorful pulu wool fabrics. The quality of otter skin is judged by its color, luster and width.
While absorbing dress elements from people of nearby regions, these people have made ingenious use of their own conditions.
The special adornment called xuelong is a good example. The adornment, about 15-centimeter long and 60-centimeter wide, is inlaid with coral, agate and other precious gems.
Tibetan women used to fasten one end of the xuelong to their girdle and the other around the milk bucket while milking yaks. This useful adornment prevented the milk bucket from being tipped over.
Over the course of history, this simple tool has become an interesting adornment of the Tibetans.
The unique dress of the Amdo Tibetans demonstrates their diligence and wisdom in the long course of seeking ways to add color to life in their demanding land.
(China Daily May 22, 2004)