Girdles Around the Waist
The clothing of the De'ang people has its own distinctive features. Men usually wear indigo or black robes buttoned on the right together with short broad trousers. They wrap their heads with black or white scarves decorated with colored pile beads on two sides. Women often wear black or dark blue blouses together with long skirts, black head wrappings, and coats laced with two pieces of red cloth. The buttons of such a coat, which is embroidered with colorful strips, are four or five big square silver pieces. The young, men or women, like wearing silver chaplets, Ertong (a sort of ornament worn on the ear) and earrings. Due to their differences in clothing and ornaments between tribes, they are sometimes called respectively "Red De'ang," "Flowery De'ang," and "Black De'ang."
In regard to clothing and accessories of De'ang people, it is women's girdles that are the most conspicuous. According to their custom, a grown woman wears several, or even tens of girdles, which are often made of rattan, or rattan for the front part, and screwy silver threads for the other. Rattans used for making girdles are of different sizes, often painted red, black or green, etc. Some are even carved with patterns or coated with silver. This unique custom can be dated back to their ancestors in Tang Dynasty, who had the custom known as "rattan girdle around the waist."
Legend has it that the ancestors of the De'ang people came from a gourd. When they were just out, men and women were the same, and girls used to dance all over the sky. Later, the god gave men wisdom and thus distinguished their countenance from that of women. In order to tie the women down to the ground, men had to make rattan hoops and loop them over the girls' waists. The girls could not fly anymore and had to live with men, and the hoops gradually developed into today's girdles. From this legend, we see something practical in it. However, the symbolic meaning is gradually lost as time passes away. Girdles are just a beautiful ornament now. It is said that the more girdles a girl wears, the more elegant they are, and the more intelligent and capable the girl is proved to be. So, women often wear a lot of girdles, and regard this as an honor. Trying to win their sweethearts' favor, young men often present the girls with elegant girdles engraved with a lot of animal or plant patterns as a love token.
Besides, the De'angs also have a very special ornament, i.e. small colorful balls made of fine cloth. They are often attached to the two ends of men's head wrappings, or in front of their breasts, or on the lap of women's clothes, or on their chaplets. And often, young people also wear the balls on their earrings and handbags. These balls, like flowers blooming in front of the breasts and around the neck, are dazzlingly beautiful.
In the past, the De'ang had the custom of tattooing their bodies, usually on legs, arms and chests with patterns of tigers, deer, horses, plants such as flowers and grass, and scriptures or incantations in the Dai language.
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