Throughout human history, we’ve used pictures to express what words cannot or created whole languages out of symbolic representations to better express our emotions and thoughts. That’s nowhere more true than in Guizhou, China, where the Miao marry handicraft and art to recount their history, legends and traditions without a written language at all.
That art? Embroidery. The Miaos’ pictorial language isn’t drawn or scribed, it’s stitched. Miao women begin learning their ancient, traditional form of embroidery at age 7 Their mothers and sisters teach the girls not only the physical aspects of the craft but the symbols and style that preserve the stories of their people.
Animal imagery, like horses, snails, dragons, chickens and goats have meaning in narrative form that Miao women embroider into intricate garments. It takes years to complete one of these wearable histories, and the results are as beautiful as they are important for preserving a culture and history that doesn’t use written words.
The goal of all language is to communicate clearly and effectively to represent the shared experiences, thoughts and emotions we live and breathe as a species. The Miao certainly understand that like few other people as they proudly stitch and wear their language.