The Miao or Hmong people are an ethnic group with a population of over 10 million. They live in the south of China, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. Since the 1970s, nearly 150,000 Miao/Hmong have settled in Australia, Canada, France and the United States. Throughout their centuries of migration, the Miao/Hmong’s oral traditions have been crucial to the transmission of their philosophy and history. This is reflected in their garments and hairstyle as well as the designs, colours, and compositions of the decorative patterns used in their costumes.
Today, most of their traditional costume-making techniques are in danger of disappearing as traditional costumes are gradually being replaced by modern clothing in synthetic materials. The lack of raw materials, time-consuming production, a decreasing demand, and the impracticality of traditional costumes for a modern lifestyle, make it difficult for these communities to continue traditional costume-making and preserve the techniques. Despite this, Miao/Hmong costumes have a high aesthetic appeal and are much appreciated by specialists and the wider public alike. They have inspired modern fashion designers and interior decorators.
UNESCO was asked to organize this workshop with three principle objectives:
- to build links between these communities and specialists;
- to compile an inventory of the endangered techniques, and;
- to strengthen co-operation between community and non-governmental organizations to promote and revitalize this traditional know-how.
In association with the Yunnan provincial authorities in China, UNESCO organized a training workshop on Miao/Hmong traditional costume-making techniques in June 2000, designed to encourage and assist local communities in revitalizing their traditional techniques and adopting them to modern life while preserving their cultural identity. Miao/Hmong masters of costume-making from various countries were invited to demonstrate and exchange techniques during the workshop. International and national specialists in textile techniques and regional NGOs involved in promoting handicrafts were invited to attend the workshop and give training courses for young Miao/Hmong professionals.