Jewellery of the hill tribes of Asia

Tuesday, 24. January 2023 - 0:00 to Sunday, 18. June 2023 - 23:45
Armschmuck mit Drachenköpfen. China. Silber. Foto: Uwe Dettmar

Traditional jewelry and accessories from China and the five ethnic minorities recognized in Thailand, Akha, Hmong, Lahu, Lisu and Mien, show the creative wealth in China, Northern Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos. The hill tribes of Asia were nomads originally from China, moving across national borders and long unrecognized by any national government. They lived by slash-and-burn agriculture, which the nation-states banned to protect the forests. The tribes were thus forced to settle down, especially in Thailand, and attempts were made to adapt their way of life to that of the majority society.

In everyday life, younger generations wear T-shirts and jeans, but at festivals people still proudly wear richly embroidered traditional costumes and traditional jewelry. Silver symbolizes prosperity and vitality and before the use of national currencies, all family wealth was kept in the form of jewelry. Some is characteristic of a group, such as the soul locks of the Hmong. Others, such as the rigid crescent-shaped neck ring or arm bracelets, are donned by members of all tribal groups.

The Hmong and Mien create massive neck and body jewelry, the Lisu often wear multi-row neck and back jewelry, and the Lahu and Akha sew silver as button discs or coins onto textile.

Jewelry such as the dragon bangles or animal and plant pendants reveal the Chinese origins of the hill tribes. The exhibition also shows outstanding examples of Chinese silversmithing such as filigree hair and neck jewelry, fancy finger jewelry and sculpturally designed mythical creatures or animals that serve as containers for bethel nut, leaves and chalk. Necklaces are given colorful accents by coral and turquoise, elaborate neck and hair jewelry made of delicate kingfisher feathers glows brilliant blue.

The objects on display come from an extensive southern German private collection. The collector traveled to the region several times between 1980 and 2018, visiting the hill tribes, acquiring a large number of the jewelry pieces on site and supplementing them with purchases from the German art trade.