General description: The doll is dressed in traditional Vietnamese costume of the majority Kinh (Viet) ethnicity with a typical nón lá conical hat.
Dimensions 17.5 x 10 x 5 cm
Date when acquired 2000s
Original Date 2000s
Source Bought in Vietnam, present from Barbara v. K.
Handmade cloth doll with painted features. Long hair made of woollen threads tied in two side plaits with orange wool, with a long fringe.
The doll is wearing a long-sleeved, high-collared blue silk tunic called an áo dài, which is the national costume of Vietnam. It is typical of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic group predominant in the country. The silk has a pattern of bamboo and letters woven into it in a paler blue. Originally, Viet women wore sarong type skirts but in the 18th century these were replaced by Chinese-style loose trousers like the white ones worn by this lady. The dark blue of the áo dài indicates that she is married; it has gone pale in the sunlight.
She has a typical plain conical palm hat (nón lá) on her head, held in place by a red ribbon. On her feet are sandals with a black base and a red tie over the instep, the traditional guoc.
Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, lies in Southeast Asia. It has an estimated 90.5 million inhabitants (2014), with the dominant Viet or Kinh ethnic group constituting nearly 85.8% of the population (2009). The Kinh population is concentrated mainly in the alluvial deltas and coastal plains of the country. However, Vietnam is also home to 54 ethnic minority groups, including the Dao, Degar, Hmong (see Thailand: Blue Hmong woman), Hoa (ethnic Chinese), Khmer Krom, Lahu (see Thailand: Lahu woman), Muong, Nùng, Tay, and Thai (see Thailand). Each of these groups have their own traditions and traditional costumes, which differ from those of the Kinh (Viet).
Humans have been living in the region now known as Vietnam from as early as the Palaeolithic age (from 2.6 million years ago). Homo erectus fossils dating to around 500,000 BC have been found in caves in northern Vietnam. By about 1000 BCE, the development of wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River floodplains — the homeland of the ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh people) led to the flourishing of the Đông Sơn and the Phung Nguyen cultures. At this time, the early Vietnamese kingdoms of Văn Lang and Âu Lạc appeared, and the Vietnamese influence spread to other parts of Southeast Asia throughout the first millennium BCE in a process known as ‘Advancing South’ (Nam Tiến).
In contrast, Central Vietnam was home to the Cham people, a Malayo-Polynesian ethnic group who founded their distinct Indianised Kingdom over the Central Coast before being subdued by the Vietnamese during the 14th century CE. Their predecessors, people who are now known as the Sa Huynh culture, dated back from 1000 BCE. Furthermore, the Mekong Delta in southernmost Vietnam was part of Funan, Chenla, and then the Angkor Empire. Chinese and Vietnamese started migrating en masse to this region during the 16th to 17th century.
The first Vietnamese state, Văn Lang, was defeated by in 257 BCE by Thục Phán, who consolidated the Lạc Việt and Âu Việt tribes to form the Âu Lạc. In 207 BCE, a Chinese general named Zhao Tuo defeated the Âu Lạc and consolidated it into Nanyue. However, Nanyue was itself incorporated into the empire of the Chinese Han dynasty in 111 BCE after the Han–Nanyue War. Vietnam was then part of Imperial China for over a millennium, from 111 BC to AD 939.
An independent Vietnamese state was formed in 939, following a Vietnamese victory in the Battle of Bạch Đằng River. Successive Vietnamese royal dynasties flourished as the nation expanded geographically and politically into Southeast Asia. In the 16th century, when the country was separated into Dang Trong (the South) and Dang Ngoai (the North), the Lords of Dang Trong instituted a cultural reform, including a costume reform to differentiate local people’s costumes from those in Dang Ngoai.
In the mid-19th century, the Indochina Peninsula (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) was colonized by the French. Following a Japanese occupation in the 1940s, the Vietnamese fought French rule in the First Indochina War, eventually expelling the French in 1954. Thereafter, Vietnam was divided politically into two rival states, North and South Vietnam as it had been in the 16th century. The conflict between the two sides intensified in what is known as the Vietnam War. The war ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975. Vietnam was then unified under a communist government.
In 1986, the government initiated a series of economic and political reforms which began Vietnam’s path towards integration into the world economy. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with all the world’s nations. Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth rate has been among the highest in the world and it joined the World Trade Organization in 2007. Vietnam remains one of the world’s five remaining one-party socialist states officially espousing communism.
Non-Kinh traditional clothing
Apart from the Kinh (Viet) ethnicity, about 54 different native groups live in Vietnam. Every ethnic group in Vietnam has its own style of clothing, which are radically different in some cases.
For example, the citizens of communities that live in the mountainous areas or on the plateaux have very colourful costumes with design motifs imitating wild flowers and beasts. A mix of contrasting colours is used frequently: black and red, blue and red, or blue and white. The clothing styles tend to be convenient for farm work in terraced fields and for travelling in the hilly or mountainous regions. In contrast, the plains peoples (Mekong basin) wear simple, modest outfits.
In Vietnam, the various ethnicities wear their favourite traditional clothes for the different festivals celebrated in the country. However, for a very long time now, the clothing of Vietnamese ethnic groups has been influenced by foreign dress. Some traditional clothes have been lost, having been substituted by more modern interpretations.
Kinh (Viet) women’s wear
Colour is very important for the Vietnamese people. Traditionally, men used to wear clothes of a particular colour according to their status; for example, yellow for kings, brown and black for civilian men, red for high-grade mandarins, green and blue for low-grade mandarins. Nowadays, such colour standards are no longer in place for men any more.
Nevertheless, women still use standard colour schemes, especially in big cities. White is for young girls, pastel colours are for young unmarried women, while married women wear brightly-coloured tunics over white or black trousers.
As there was a class division in feudal Vietnamese society, common women wore long black shirts made from coarse materials, whereas upper class women wore shirts made from fine materials and cloths with brighter colours such as yellow, blue, red and purple. However, dark hues were considered more suitable for women living in wet areas. Upper-class women usually wore long shirts in blue or violet, curved shoes and flat palm hats with fringes (nón quai thao) with their hair in a bun.
Áo tứ thân
Initially, the women’s costume in the North of Vietnam was the áo tứ thân (four-piece blouse) with a bodice, a skirt and a headscarf of the ancient Vietnamese women. The áo tứ thân is open at the front, like a jacket, and at the waist the tunic is split into three flaps: a full flap in the back (made up of two flaps sewn together) and the two flaps in the front which are not sewn together but can be tied together or left dangling. The áo tứ thân comes in many fabrics and colours. A long skirt was worn under the tunic and an yếm, which is an ancient piece of clothing worn as an undergarment by women to cover the chest area (see below). A silk sash is tied round at the waist as a belt. The áo tứ thân is nowadays no longer used as day-to-day clothing but it has become the official costume for traditional occasions such as festivals and events, especially in northern Vietnam.
An yếm is a traditional Vietnamese bodice (looks a little like a halter neck) used primarily as an undergarment that was once worn by Vietnamese women of all classes. There exists a modern variant called the áo yếm, but the historical garment was simply called an yếm. It was usually worn underneath a blouse or overcoat. It is a simple garment with many variations from its basic form, which is a simple, usually diamond or square-cut piece of cloth draped over a woman’s chest with strings to tie at the neck and back. In the 19th century, the yếm was a square piece of cloth with one corner cut away to fit under the woman’s throat. This scrap of fabric was secured across the chest and stomach with thin strings. The yếm used by the poor whilst working was brown or beige and made of coarsely woven material. Urban women favoured white, pink or red yếm. On special occasions, like the Lunar New Year or other festivals, rural women would also wear brightly coloured yếm. The skirt which is worn with the yếm is called váy đụp.
There is one kind of yếm which was often wore by ancient ladies called yếm deo bua, because it had a small pocket containing musk. In the olden days, when a girl had a date with her beloved, she usually put a piece of betel inside her yếm as this was supposed to have special powers.
The yếm originated from the Chinese dudou, a variant of similar undergarments used in China since antiquity. It became popular in northern Vietnam. Unlike other Vietnamese clothing that helped to segregate the classes, the unseen yếm were worn as an undergarment by Vietnamese women of all walks of life, from peasant women toiling in the fields to imperial consorts. It is an integral part of the áo tứ thân costume as it is often worn underneath it.
In the 18th century, Chinese style clothing was forced on Vietnamese people by the Nguyen dynasty, so that the typical tunic and trousers of the Han Chinese replaced the yếm and skirt (váy đụp).
In addition, the ao ba (loose-fitting blouse) entered Vietnam from China with Chinese traders. This type of blouse has been redesigned several times and is now the distinctive costume of southern women. Initially, the ao ba was black and tailored with pockets and split flaps at the hip. It was worn along with a bandana, suitable to the life of women in watery areas. Later, designers made it tighter with a Raglan shoulder, and in light and bright hues that make the modern ao ba more feminine and beautiful.
In the 18th century, southern Vietnamese women wore long five-flap shirts (ao mo ba mo bay, shirt of several flaps) with black loose trousers. This five-piece shirt was considered as the forerunner to the current áo dài of southern women. Áo classifies the item as a piece of clothing on the upper part of the body, while dài means “long”. The word áo dài was originally applied to the outfit worn at the court of the Nguyễn Lords at Huế in the 18th century. This outfit evolved into the áo ngũ thân, a five-panelled aristocratic gown worn in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the 19th century and early 20th century, due to the influence of the French culture, the áo dài was made tighter, clinging to the body and more colourful, from thin materials and worn with loose white trousers. Madame Nhu, first lady of South Vietnam, popularized a collarless version beginning in 1958. The dress was extremely popular in South Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1970s, Southern designers renovated the costume making it cling to the body with narrowed flaps. They especially made use of the Raglan shoulder to avoid creases and give the dress a softer, more flowing appearance. The communists, who gained power in the North in 1954 and in the South in the 1975, had conflicting feelings about the áo dài and it was apparently banned. The áo dài experienced a revival beginning in late 1980s, when state enterprises and schools began adopting the dress as a uniform again. It is the required uniform for female teacher (mostly from primary to secondary school, with no constraints on colour etc.) and female students (white with only small patterns e.g. flowers). Companies often require their female staff to wear uniforms that include the áo dài, so flight attendants, receptionists, bank female staff, restaurant staff, and hotel workers in Vietnam may be seen wearing it. The áo dài is now also standard for weddings and for celebrating Tết (Lunar New Year) and for other formal occasions.
The traditional costumes of the lower class Vietnamese men tended to be very simple and modest. It included brown tunics/shirts with long sleeves and wide white trousers. Their headgear was simply a piece of cloth wrapped around the head or a conical hat and their footwear consisted of a pair of plain wooden shoes or sandals. Formal dress consisted of a white and black combination with two additional items: a long gown with slits on either side, and a turban, usually in black or brown made of cotton or silk. These colours were regulated as in feudal times ordinary people were not allowed to wear clothes with dyes other than black, brown or white.
Men’s dress has gradually changed along with social development and time. The traditional set of a long gown and turban has given way to more modern looking suits, while business shirts and trousers have replaced the traditional long-sleeved shirts and wide trousers. Traditional costumes still exist and efforts are increasingly being made to restore traditional festivals and entertainment which incorporate traditional costumes.
Nowadays one of the traditional men’s costumes still used in Vietnam is the áo dài, but it differs from women’s áo dài as it tends to be much shorter and fuller. Men wear the áo dài with trousers. The everyday version of áo dài for men is usually brown, but a festive one can be of any colour and is usually ornate.
On Tết (Lunar New Year) and other occasions, Vietnamese men may wear a version of the áo dài made of thicker fabric, the áo gấm (gấm means brocade, so brocade robe).
Vietnamese conical hats
People in Vietnam wear conical hats (nón lá) which protect them from the elements and help them in ordinary life. Both men and women use them, but the design and look of such hats vary a lot as there are more than 50 different types of conical hats in Vietnam: made for men, women, children, Buddhists, army, rich people and so on. The style is very old: images of nón lá hats were embossed on Ngoc Lu drums about 2500 to 3000 years ago.
Among Asian conical hats, the nón lá of the Vietnamese people forms a perfect right circular cone which tapers smoothly from the base to the apex. The men’s conical hat has a higher cone and smaller rims. Women’s is low, broad-rimmed and often beautifully decorated and have pretty ribbons to tie the hat on. Women often use their conical hat not only as a piece of clothing but also to carry things such as fruit and vegetables. Also they can scoop up water from a well with their hat and drink.
Special conical hats in Vietnam contain colourful hand-stitch depictions or words (Hán tự) while the Huế varieties are famous for their nón bài thơ (literally: poem conical hats). These contain random poetic verses and hán tự which can be revealed when the hat is directed above one’s head in the sunlight. Today, it has become part of Vietnam’s national costume.
Vietnamese conical hats are always handmade. Materials such as bamboo, young palm leaves and reed are used. Palm leaves and a special kind of bamboo are used to weave a hat and the threads for sewing are made from the leaves of a special kind of reed. The hats are rather hard to make to ensure everything is perfect.
Due to Vietnam’s hot and humid climate and wading days in wet rice paddies or fishing, Vietnamese people usually went barefoot. Indeed, up until the Tran Dynasty (1225—1400 CE), most Vietnamese people went barefoot though clogs guoc were not unknown. Those people who had such shoes used them only for holidays or visiting friends, not in everyday life. The clogs were made from bamboo roots, ivory, coconut shells or other natural materials. At home people wore wooden clogs with vertical straps to protect the toes.
In south-central Vietnam, people generally made their own clogs. They favoured thick soles with slightly turned-up tips. The straps, which attached through a hole in the front and a pair of holes on the sides, were braided from soft cloth. Because the sole was curved at the front, the knot of the front strap did not rub on the ground. The soles of women’s clogs were shaped like hour-glasses, while men’s clogs — known as ‘sampan clogs’ — had straight soles. Made of white wood, Phu Yen clogs were left unpainted, while those from the central city of Hue were often painted in black and brown with a pale coloured triangle on the side of the sole. Only well-to-do men wore painted clogs. Some areas called clogs don, hence the Vietnamese saying “a foot with a shoe, a foot with a don” to indicate rich people who put on airs.
Guoc have a symbolic meaning for Vietnamese people. There are even different legends about the appearance of wooden clogs. Ancient Chinese books record that in the third century, the leader of a Vietnamese resistance movement, Ba Trieu, wore a pair of ivory clogs. Another popular legend tells of a pair of stone clogs passed down for generations by a family in Cao Bang, high in Vietnam’s northern mountains. Although modern Vietnamese clogs are usually made of plastic and rubber, but traditional clogs are still used on festivals and ceremonies to honour the past.
General description: An unmarried girl in a typical peasant shan ku outfit, just back from a successful fishing trip
Dimensions 26 x 8 x 6 cm
Date when acquired 2000s
Original Date Unknown
Source Flea market in the Bochum area; present from Fritz W.
Plastic doll with painted features, mounted on black plastic oval base (9.5 x 8 x 2 cm). She has her long black hair tied in a single plait with a red ribbon. Her fringe only covers the central part of her forehead.
The doll is wearing the Shan ku, a pyjama-style outfit, typical of the peasant and farming class. Instead of the plain colours normally associated with this style, the material of both the long-sleeved tunic (shan) and narrow trousers (ku) has a dark brown background patterned with a myriad of flowers in white, yellow and light brown with light green leaves. The tunic is high-collared and has a slanted front (like the Tibetan deel), with the right front tied over the left and held in place by a red tassel. The hems are sewn with red thread.
Her shoes are made of red material with a grey sole.
On her head is a conical hat but made of open weave with what looks like rice paper on the inside so that the light can shine through it.
She is holding two metal fish hanging from her left hand and a piece of blue netting in her right hand.
The shan ku (shan = mid-thigh-length tunic; ku = trousers) was worn originally by both men & women. It was adapted from the traditional male changshan and female qipao (cheongsam) gowns introduced during the Qing Dynasty (17th century), which were too loose and impractical for peasants, farmers and others who did manual labour. In 19th century, men started to use a front-opening jacket instead of the shan. In the 20th century, the shan became shorter and more fitted with a narrow neckband. The garments were usually dyed black, blue or grey with a waistband in a lighter blue or white – in Guodong province, a white waistband symbolised the wish for long marriage and happy old age. The fabrics for the shan and ku were and are often the same but not always.
With the shan ku, a worker often wore the ku li (Chinese for “bitter strength”) — better known in English as the ‘coolie’ hat — a conical, woven straw hat designed to protect the wearer from the elements. This type of hat is called dǒulì in Chinese, literally meaning a “one-dǒu bamboo hat” (where a dǒu is equivalent to ca. 10.3 Liters).
In China, possibly more than in any other culture, hair has long had a strong political and social meaning. Even in ancient China, young women wore their hair down or in simple styles to show they were unmarried. Maidens traditionally kept their hair in braids until their fifteenth birthday. Single women (yimei) arranged their hair in a plait. In contrast, married women (yisao) used a bun tied on the top of the head. Widowed women, who did not want to marry again, shaved their heads as a sign of indifference. According to Confucianism, to shave ones hair in is a form of mutilation and a disfigurement of the image.
Source(s) of information
‘Chinese Dress: From the Qing Dynasty to the Present’ by Valery Garrett
This a simple style of conical hat originating in East, South and Southeast Asia. Such conical hats are used particularly in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, parts of Russian Manchuria and Vietnam.
This style of hat is used primarily as protection from the sun and rain. Many types of plant material are used for producing them: e.g. bamboo, palm leaf, sedge or straw. When made of straw or matting, the hat can be dipped in water and worn as an impromptu evaporative-cooling device.
The hat can be loosely or closely woven, plain or painted. It is kept on the head by a cloth (often silk) chin strap. The style is very old with the first Vietnamese nón lá hats being from 3,000 years ago.
The English names for this style of headwear varies greatly: bamboo hat, paddy hat, rice hat, sedge hat, Raiden hat and sometimes coolie (from the Chinese Ku li) hat.
Asian conical hats are still made by artisans throughout Asian. The method of production may vary but the one used in Chuong Village Vietnam can be used as an example. The leaves for the hats are from a type of palm tree. Bright green leaves are gathered from the trees. The leaves are rubbed on sand until they are soft and then sun dried several times until they turn white. They are then further dried over a low fire, finally losing all moisture but remaining supple and uncrushed.
The round frames of the hats are made with small strips of split bamboo, artfully connected to form a smooth rim. The frame of a Chuong hat is assembled on top of a wooden mould that ensures it is the right size. Each leaf is carefully arranged to overlap and the layers are sewed together. A thin layer of oil is also spread on the hats to ensure that they shed water. The final stage is making the straps of hats, giving them a splash of colour.
The People’s Republic of China, in Asia, is the world’s most populous country, with a population of over 1.381 billion. China officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese, who constitute about 91.5% of the total population. The Han Chinese is the world’s largest single ethnic group. According to a 2010 census, ethnic minorities account for about 8.5% of the population of China. The main ethnic groups in China are Bai (1.9 million), Buyei (2.8 million), Dai (1.2 million) Dong (2.8 million), Hani (1.6 million), Hui (10.5 million), Kazakh (1.4 million), Korean (1.8 million), Li (1.4 million), Manchu (10.3 million), Miao (9.4 million), Mongol (5.9 million), Tibetan (6.2 million), Tujia (8.3 million), Uyghur (11.5 million), Yao (2.7 million), Yi (8.7 million), and Zhuang (16.9 million).
Due to this very diverse ethnic mix and China’s long history, I am certainly not able to give a comprehensive overview of the different types of clothing used traditionally in this vast country. Consequently, as I have only one Chinese doll, I will just give a very short description here with a couple of pictures to show the great variety within the Han Chinese traditions. If and when I get dolls from the other ethnicities or more Han Chinese dolls I will deal with each of them specifically.
China has a history which covers virtually 5,000 years, from the Bronze Age into the twentieth century. Many different types of materials [e.g. silk (first made in China), hemp, or cotton] and superb technical skills [weaving, dyeing, embroidery, and other textile arts] have been developed and used. Traditional Chinese clothing is broadly referred to as hanfu. Depending on one’s status in society, each social class had a different sense of fashion.
The Chinese Revolution of 1911, not only changed Chinese society radically but new styles arose to replace the clothing traditions that were considered no longer appropriate or were even violently rejected. Early in the People’s Republic, Mao Zedong inspired Chinese fashion with his own variant of the Zhongshan suit, which would be known in the West as the Mao suit. Around the Destruction of the “Four Olds” period in 1964, almost anything seen as part of Traditional Chinese culture would lead to problems with the Communist Red Guards.
By the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), the qipao (cheongsam) had been denounced as “feudal,” and the wearing of the blue Mao suit was nearly obligatory. In recent years, a renewed interest in traditional Chinese culture has led to a movement in China advocating for the revival of hanfu.
General description: Malayan woman in traditional two-piece baju kurung
Dimensions 27 x 8 x 7.5 cm
Date when acquired 2000s
Original Date Unknown
Source Flea market in the Bochum area; present from Fritz W.
Plastic Barbie-like doll with painted features, mounted on black wooden square base (7.5 x 7.5 x 0.8 cm). Her very thick black hair is drawn back softly from the front of the face and arranged in a large bun at the back with a skew to the left. She is wearing a black hairnet to hold it in place. Around the base of the bun is a ribbon of double zig-zag braid in gold and pink. The ends of her fingers are painted red to indicate nail varnish.
Her baju kurung is made of a long-sleeved narrow tunic and long narrow skirt made of silk that has panels in emerald green around the hem of the skirt and the top of the sleeves. The rest is a very pale sage background with a floral pattern in pink, emerald green and a deeper sage green. The skirt has the traditional pleats on the left-hand side making it easier to move. The neckline of the tunic is square at both the front and back, with the back slightly deeper than the front. She is wearing a long pink chiffon shawl over her right shoulder that goes to her knees both at the front and back. The shawl is held in place by a brooch of three white pearls pinned to her chest. Around her neck is a gold chain with a knot in it on the right side as decoration. Her ear-rings are large round gold metal plates.
She is wearing black high-heeled shoes to complete her outfit.
As she is not wearing a headscarf, this indicates the doll is not from the more conservative states in northern Malaysia as there women often wear a headscarf (a tudung).
General description: Malayan man in formal clothing
Dimensions 23 x 8 x 5.5 cm
Date when acquired 1980s
Original Date 1980s
Source Singapore city, Singapore; present from my parents
Body made of felt on top of wire. The head appears to be made of some type of plastic with painted features. The doll is mounted on brown painted wooden square base (6 x 6 x 1 cm) with a golden label with the words “Malay costume doll”.
He is wearing a traditional two-piece baju melayu in a pale lavender silk. It is in the cekak musang style as it has a standing collar. The collar is closed at the back. The shirt is closed by three buttons made of red beads held in place by silver pins. There are no pockets typical of the cekak musang style, however. The doll has a traditional sampin (Malayan kilt or sarong) from the waist to below the hips. The material is a piece of black velvet with stripes of golden thread running vertically through it. On his head is a tengkolok, a typical piece of Malay male headgear made of the same material.
Over his right shoulder is a narrow sash in green, white and red. It is held in front and on the right shoulder by a silver sequin. The tricolour symbolising the Malay people is however green, yellow and red (green =Islam, yellow = royalty and the allegiance of the people to their rulers, and red = the traditional colour of the Malay meaning courage, bravery, heroism and loyalty). He also has a sort of medal on his left chest made of a strip of the same material held in place with a silver sequin.
On his feet are a pair of flip-flop-like plastic sandals each held in place by a silver sequin but they may just be representatives of the capal (the traditional Malay sandal which has a piece that goes between the first and second toes).
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia. It is separated by the South China Sea into two similarly sized regions, Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo). It has a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural population of over 30 million people. About half the population is ethnically Malay (Bumiputras), with large minorities of Malaysian Chinese (24.6%), Malaysian Indians (7.1%), and indigenous peoples [the Orang Asal (meaning the ‘original’, ‘natural’ or ‘aboriginal’ people) 11% also known as Orang Kita (meaning ‘Our People’)]. The constitution declares Islam the state religion while allowing freedom of religion for non-Muslims. This cultural and ethnic diversity and the chequered history of the country means that different types of traditional clothing are present in Malaysia.
The autochthonous peoples of the Malay Peninsula are the Austroasiatic-speaking Semang and Senoi groups. The Proto-Malays, who speak Austronesian languages, migrated to the area between 2500 and 1500 BC. These Orang Asal peoples kept to themselves until the first traders from India arrived in the first millennium AD. The rise of historical pre-Islamic Malay kingdoms and later Islamic sultanates assimilated and Malayalised most of the historical Orang Asal people into their community, thus becoming the ancient ancestors for many present-day Malay people. Other Orang Asal groups, however, opted to retreat further inland to avoid contact with outsiders and are the ancestors of the various Orang Asal subgroups and tribes in existence today.
The present-day state of Malaysia has its origins in the Malay kingdoms which arose at the beginning of the Common Era. Between the 7th and 13th centuries, many of these small, often prosperous peninsula and Sumatran maritime trading states, became part of the Mandala of Srivijaya, whose was gained mostly through trade with India and China. The Srivijayan Era is considered the Golden Age of Malay culture; the state religion was Buddhism. The glory of Srivijaya, however, began to wane after the series of raids by the Indian Chola dynasty in the 11th century. By the end of the 13th century, the remnants of the Malay empire in Sumatra was finally destroyed by Javanese invaders. Rebellions against the Javanese rule ensued and in 1299, the Kingdom of Singapura in Temasek was established, which ruled the island kingdom until the end of the 14th century, when the Malay polity once again was attacked by Javanese invaders. The period between the 12th and 15th centuries saw the arrival of Islam and the rise of the great port-city of Malacca on the southwestern coast of the Malay Peninsula. In 1400, the Malacca Sultanate was established, inheriting much of the royal and cultural traditions of the Srivijaya era. In the 14th century, another Malay realm, the Bruneian Empire had risen to become the most powerful polity in Borneo and by the middle of the 15th century, Brunei had entered into a close relationship with the Malacca Sultanate.
By the 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate, whose hegemony reached over much of the western Malay Archipelago, had become the centre of Islamisation in the east. As a Malaccan state religion, Islam brought many great transformations into the Malaccan society and culture, and it became the primary instrument in the evolution of a common Malay identity. Over time, this common Malay cultural idiom came to characterise much of the Malay Archipelago through the Malayisation process.
In 1511, the Malaccan capital fell into the hands of Portuguese conquistadors. The Sultan maintained his overlordship on the lands outside Malacca and established the Johor Sultanate in 1528 to succeed Malacca. Between 1511 and 1984, however, numerous Malay kingdoms and sultanates fell under direct colonisation or became the protectorates of different foreign powers: from European colonial powers like Portuguese, Dutch and British, to regional powers like Siam and Japan.
Following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 which divided the Malay Archipelago into a British zone in the north and a Dutch zone in the south, all Malay sultanates in Sumatra and Southern Borneo became part of the Dutch East Indies. Though some of Malay sultans maintain their power under Dutch control, some were abolished by the Dutch colonial government. In the Pontianak incidents during the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, the Japanese massacred most of the Kalimantan Malay elite and beheaded all of the Kalimantan Malay Sultans.
Those areas which became subject to the British Empire in the 18th century were known as the Straits Settlements, and the associated Malay kingdoms became British protectorates. The territories on Peninsular Malaysia were first unified as the Malayan Union in 1946. Malaya was restructured as the Federation of Malaya in 1948, and achieved independence on 31 August 1957. Malaya united with North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore on 16 September 1963. Less than two years later in 1965, Singapore was expelled from the federation.
Since its independence in 1957, Malaysia has had one of the best economic records in Asia. Its economy has traditionally been fuelled by its natural resources, but is expanding in the sectors of science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism. Today, Malaysia has a newly industrialised market economy, ranked third largest in Southeast Asia and 29th largest in the world.
Orang Asal are the indigenous people and the oldest inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia. Officially, there are 18 Orang Asal tribes, categorised under three main groups according to their different languages and customs: the Semang (or Negrito), generally confined to the northern portion of the peninsula; the Senoi, residing in the central region; and the Proto-Malay (or Aboriginal Malay), in the southern region.
Before the creation of ancient kingdoms, most aboriginal people wore bark costumes decorated with beads. In the times of early kingdoms hand-crafted textiles were used, and trade from other areas brought other outfits such as silk costumes, pulicats (?) and sarongs, and jubbahs (Islamic shirts). The Orang Asli still wear clothing of natural materials, often out of tree bark and skirt. Leaf fronds are sometimes crafted into headbands or other ornaments.
In East Malaysia similar clothes are worn. The Orang Ulu wear hand-loomed cloths as well as tree bark fabrics. Beads and feathers are used for decoration.
The Iban are known for their woven pua kumbu textiles. Another well-known type of cloth is the songket of the Sarawak Malay.
In Sabah the clothing of different tribes varies to different degrees, with tribes in close proximity having similar clothing.
Notable ones are the Kadazan-Dusun straw hats for ladies, the dastar of the Bajau. Men from the Lotud tribe wear a headdress which has a number of fold points equal to the number of the man’s wives.
For both men and women, see Traditional Malay costume: baju kurung.
Another popular traditional costume for women is the bajukebaya, a more tight-fitting two-piece dress that originated from the court of the Javanese Majapahit Kingdom. This is often considered less formal than the baju kurung. It is also traditionally worn by women in Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia (national costume), the southern part of the Philippines, and southern Thailand. In addition, it is worn by the female flight attendants of Malaysia Airlines. It is sometimes made from sheer material such as silk, thin cotton or semi-transparent nylon or polyester, adorned with brocade or floral pattern embroidery.
A kebaya is usually worn with a sarong, or a batik kain panjang (head covering), or other traditional woven garment with a colourful motif.
Malay women also wear the baju kebarung – a combination of the baju kebaya and the baju kurung. It is loose and almost reaches the ankles. It is not one of the traditional clothes of the Malay, but an adaptation.
Prior to the wide embracing of Islam, Malay women wore kemban, a type of sarong tied just above the chest.
Malay men wear a songkok or kopiah on their heads. Songkok are generally a dark natural colour, and the kopiah is a white colour and represents purity. Women often wear scarves (tudung) on their heads.
Another traditional piece of Malay male headgear is the tengkolok (also known as destar, setanjak/tanjak and setangan kepala). It is made from long songket cloth folded and tied in particular style (solek). Nowadays, this type of headgear is worn by royalty or for ceremonial occasions or during the wedding ceremony by grooms.
The classical everyday clothing for men in Malaysia is a short-sleeved shirt worn over the trousers, light-weight trousers and informally, sandals for comfort.
The Chinese women wear the cheongsam, a one-piece dress with a high collar, diagonally closed with small clips or toggles (fabric clasps). It sometimes can have slits at the side, as is made with a soft fabric such as silk. The cheongsam is especially popular around the time of the Chinese New Year and other formal gatherings.
Older well-respected women wear a samfoo, which looks like pyjamas with a separate loose fitting top fastened by toggles and ankle length, or above the ankle, pants.
Old Chinese immigrants who have married Malays and adopted some of their culture are known as the Baba Nyonya or Peranakan Chinese. They wear hand-made lace-like versions of the bajukebaya, often with intricate embroidery.
Indians in Malaysia as with elsewhere in the world wear saris, a cloth of 5-6 yards which is usually worn with a petticoat of a similar shade. It is wrapped around the body so that the embroidered end hangs over the shoulder, while the petticoat is worn above the bellybutton to support the saree, which can be made from a wide variety of materials.
The Punjabi salwar kameez is popular with women from northern India, and is a long tunic worn over trousers with a matching shawl.
Indian men wear the kurta, a knee-length shirt usually made from cotton or linen and often with trousers in a suit known as kurta pyjama (the shirt is mostly white or pastel coloured and the loose trousers with a string tie at the waist are traditionally white in colour).
Indian men otherwise wear sherwani (a coat-like garment fitted close to the body, of knee-length or longer and opening in front with button-fastenings with jodhpur-like trousers), lungi (a short length of material worn around the thighs rather like a sarong; also worn by women) or dhoti (a cloth worn around the hips like trousers).
Those descended from the Portuguese often wear Portuguese-style outfits. Men wear jackets and trousers with waist sashes, while women wear broad front-layered skirts. The dominant colours are black and red.
Japan has a long history of doll making (starting somewhere between 8000-200 BCE) and even has a festival celebrating dolls: Hinamatsuri, the doll or girls’ festival. Kimekomi is a special Japanese method of doll making, where the carved base has grooves cut into it and the material for the clothes is inserted into the grooves.
The ancestors of Kimekomi dolls are the Kamo (willow-wood) dolls, small dolls carved of willow and decorated with cloth scraps. It is said that the first Kimekomi doll was made by Tadashige Takahashi who served the Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto 260 years ago, during the Genbun Era (1736-1741).
Between jobs, Takahashi amused himself by creating dolls from willow offcuts that were left over from the manufacture of shrine festival accoutrements. The dolls were made of willow grown by the Kamo River and Takahashi used cloth from the costume (kimono) of a Shinto priest to clothe it. The cloth, called kinran included very thin gold sheet called kin-paku into the grooves. These dolls were given various names: yanagi ningyo (Willow dolls), kamo ningyo (Kamo Dolls) and kamogawa ningyo (Kamogawa Dolls). However, in Japanese, this action of putting something into something, kimekomi. A doll was called ningyou. That is why this type of doll became to be called kimekomi ningyou.
People who want to become proficient in making kimekomi ningyou need special training as great skill is required. The body and the head are made separately and then joined together.
Nowadays, the carved and/or moulded base is of wood, wood composite materials, or (in some modern dolls) plastic foam. For example, the base material used to create the bodies of Edo kimekomi ningyo (wood and cloth dolls) is called toso. This is a resin compound that contains sawdust from the paulownia tree and other substances. The doll bodies receive five or more lacquer coats after grooves have been cut in them. Paste is then applied to the grooves and the body is then clothed in material. The edges of each piece of cloth are tucked precisely into the grooves. The dolls are dressed either in silk fabrics, or materials of a similar quality.
The heads are made of a bisque clay (hakuundo clay rich in dolomite or a similar type of clay) and the features are painted on. The hair is either part of the moulded head or a separate wig. The wigs are usually made of fine silk threads. Once the head is finished, it is attached to the body.
Compared to the kimekomi ningyo produced in Kyoto which are known for their regal bearing in terms of the manner in which the face is depicted, those produced in Tokyo tend to be typified by somewhat narrower faces and more clearly defined eyes and noses. Kimekomi ningyo have become a very popular handicraft and kits with finished heads can be purchased. This method is also used by some of Japan’s avant-garde doll makers, who nowadays adapt the old materials to new visions.