Tujia, a special ethnic group with origins steeped in mystic legend. The special traditions are all appealing: brides crying before the wedding, dancing and skipping during times of great grief, such as a funeral procession, Nuo Opera, and the elegant, unconventional and enthusiastic hand-swinging dance.
Traditional handicrafts of Tujia are also greatly varied: stone carvings, embroidery, paper-cuts, dyeing, shoe cushions, pottery, etc. The most famous is the brocade called "Xilan Kapu."
According to legend, the people of Tujia who live in the beautiful land with mountains and rivers are descendants of the ancient people of Ba group. Over the past millennium and more, they have lived in the great mountains far from the noise of cities. They have created the unique culture and art of their own. The brocade has been listed as one of the five major brocades of China, owing to its unique craftsmanship and beautiful designs.
Xilan Kapu means bedclothes in Tujia language. Kapu means designs and Xilan Kapu means bedcloth with native designs. Xilan Kapu has a history of over a thousand years. In ancient times, it was sent to the national capital along with tiger skins, musk and nanmu wood as a tribute to the imperial family. The Tujia people use it to make quilt covers, chair cushions, pillow towels, aprons, and so on. Xilan Kapu is usually woven with silk or cotton in red, blue, green, white, and yellow with ancient wooden looms. In weaving Xilan Kapu, young women use needles made of cattle horns to pick out patterns. The industrial process of weaving requires rigorous workmanship. The women adopt the method of maintaining the same warps and cutting the wefts as required by the patterns and freely change the combinations of colors to form designs. As a result, all kinds of beautiful patterns are formed. This skill is rare among brocades in China.
The overall effect of Xilan Kapu is its simple, elegant and gorgeous patterns. More than 200 traditional patterns have been handed down from the past, involving all aspects of life of Tujia. They generally fall into three categories: natural phenomena, including birds and animals, tools and household utensils, flowers and plants; various geometrical patterns; and written Chinese characters, such as xi (joy), fu (happiness), and shou (longevity). These traditional patterns make use of materials from daily life, such as the colorful feathers of golden pheasants, curling waves, arches of bridges and butterflies dancing over tree peonies, phoenixes facing the sun, magpies playing with plum blossoms and wedding processions. The patterns of the brocade mostly consist of animals, because historically the people often lived alongside birds and animals; they were mostly fishermen and hunters who were not skilled in commerce. The old artists with many years of experience are able to weave beautiful patterns without having to refer to patterns.
Being able to weave Xilan Kapu is a necessary skill for a girl, who begins to learn to weave brocade from her mother or elder sisters from the age of 11 or 12 and the number of brocade works she has made and the level of her skills serve as an important reference in measuring her character and abilities when she grows into a mature woman ready for marriage. At her wedding, a girl of Tujia must have Xilan Kapu she has personally weaved as part of her dowry and she must devote all her heart to do the last piece of the Xilan Kapu well because it is an important accessory, being the bridal veil she’ll wear at the wedding ceremony as well as her cape at balls and concerts. If her husband leaves home to go far away she will give him this painstakingly made brocade in which to wrap his luggage and thus accompany him on his trip.
Today, the beautiful Xilan Kapu Brocade is a very important traditional handicraft for the Tujia ethnic group in Zhangjiajie. They have made a lot and sold in some tourist shops in Zhangjiajie.