Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Our Costumed World

     One important way to know that one is actually in a Third World area is the difference in dress encountered in so many of these areas. For those who are interested in cultural variation and interesting photography, places where Western style outfits are the only form of dress usually offer less excitement and opportunity. One does not need to leave our hemisphere to experience dramatic variations. I have mentioned Chichicastenango, Guatemala in an earlier blog. Almost all the Indians in the area wear colorful embroidered blouses or shirts and very distinctive costumes, especially for holidays and celebrations. Not much farther south in Panama, there are several different tribal groups who dress in a unique fashion from the scantily clad  Embara forest dwellers to the commerically influenced Kuna Indians who live on the nearby islands. South America features additional treats from Otovalans in Ecuador with their very distinctive necklaces and Panama hats to the ubiquitous women's dresses with bowler hats, multiple skirts and varied embroidery of Bolivia. Peasants in the hills of Peru tend their sheep wearing colorful home made skirts and blouses. Many villagers dress this way throughout the Andes.

     Africa and Asia offer many more opportunities to experience the wide variety of dress that traditional peoples have created for themselves. In Yunnan Province of South China alone, there are many different groups with totally unique forms of dress from the Bai People to the Yi to Tibetans who have moved to the area and many others. The dressmakers from this area are highly skilled and the costumes extremely elaborate and pleasing to the eye. We stumbled upon a market near Lake Erhai in Yunnan where every single person was dressed in their distinctive cultural fashion. The many tribal peoples in Southeast Asia also distinguish themselves as coming from one village or area by their dress alone. One cannot fail to recognize the Hmong or the White Karen or the Yao people simply by what they wear. Of course, what we are accustomed to considering traditional Indian dress is common in most of the villages of that country as is the dress of rural Chinese but each of these vast nations has scores of tribal people as well who maintain their own traditions and decorations. These are a treasure for the curious and a great opportunity for the photographer.

     Africa offers fantastic variations as well. While there are amazing costumes from the tribes of Niger to the heights of Ethiopia, many of the groups in this area distinguish themselves by face and body painting as well as by dress. Traditional peoples are scattered throughout the continent. One can find find incredible tribal dress in Namibia and equally compelling outfits in the deserts of Mali or Mauritania. The South Pacific area is equally rich in the clothing of the people (or lack of it.) From the hills of New Guinea to the many islands off its coast, people paint their faces often on a daily basis with careful detail and imaginative forms. Their decorating may even be one of the most important and time-taking activities of the day. Among the many treats of Third World travel is the incredible variation that men and women have utilized to cover or decorate their bodies. Take a good look as you travel along.

Woman Smoking Cheroot, Burma

No comments: