Li Brocade

Hainan, in the South China Sea. More than a million Li people inhabit this tropical island, bringing it to life with their colourful, sophisticated, traditional costumes.
he costumes, and the making of them, are cultural traditions of the Li people, a precious heirloom which is verbally passed down from mother to daughter – the Li having their own language but no writing system.
Rich in cotton, the island’s natural resource has allowed the Li to develop their work. They create the special material by spinning, weaving and dyeing the cotton by hand or by using the unique Ikat brocade technique. This consists of spinning the raw cotton by hand, completing the complex dyeing process by using crushed leaves from the mountain plants and creating original weaving machines which allow for hundreds of different patterns. The result is the double sided brocade “Warp Ikat”, which creates a visual trick using the warp and weft thread. Over the past 30 years, the number of Li people who wear the traditional fabrics has declined rapidly and fewer and fewer people are able to create them. The passing down of the tradition from mother to daughter has become rare meaning that this local custom faces extinction. Declaring that these brocades are “an essential part of the personal identity of the Li women and of the cultural identity of the Li ethnic group”, Unesco is considering adding it to their intangible heritage list. To safeguard it, a teaching process is being put in place: the old women who know the tradition well fervently offer their knowledge so that future generations can pass on this treasure which is so full of both symbolic and aesthetic value.