The Love’s Keepsake—Tongnian Shoes of Mulao Ethnic Group

The clothes worn and the cloth used by Mulao people from generation to generation, are all spun, woven, dyed, and sewn by themselves. The cloth dying method is particularly unique. They firstly cut the nankeen into the strips about 6.67 meters long, then put them into the indigo dye vat. Shine and dye repeatedly to make the blue and green color and luster even. After that, dye the cloth with the yam water to make the cloth mauve. Then spread the rice gruel and ox glue thick liquid onto the cloth surface. After drying, the glue solidifies. At last, level off the cloth with the rolling stone, and beat it soft with mallet. The cloth made with this method has bright and dazzling color, attractive and durable, and is well received by people. Mulao girls’ marriage clothes, Tongnian (of the same age) shoes, the old man’s shroud, as well as the gallus made by the grandparents to their grandsons, are all made of such kind of refined nankeen.

Mulao women in the big cities can all make cotton shoes, which feature various styles, “cloud head shoes,” “cat head shoes,” “single upper-front shoes,” “double upper-front shoes,” etc.

With the social development and improved living standard, these traditional self-made shoes are becoming more and more rare. However, there is a kind of shoes—Tongnian shoes, which function as the keepsake of love of Mulao girls and are still prevailing in the Mulao mountainous area so far. Its making technique is rather complicated, meticulous, and exquisite. The bottom is made of calico, and the upper-front of indigo cloth. At first, cut dozens of layers of calico into the bottom shape, and then paste them up from one layer to another. After that, stitch it with white cotton thread. The sole requires the stitches arranged into rows horizontally, and into lines vertically. Especially, the size of pinprick should be the same. Then take the indigo cloth to make the vamp, which is connected with the sole. It is still not finished, and there is also the last working procedure: put the shoes into a steamer for more than 10 minutes, and get it out to dry. So a pair of beautiful and exquisite Tongnian shoes is successfully made.

Mulao girls begin to learn to do this kind of shoes when they are still teenagers. By the time that they grow up and plan to go to the slope field for “slope walking,” looking for their lovers, they will close themselves at home to make the shoes silently. One stitch after another, they sew their shoes with their own pure love. When in the “slope walking”, if a girl takes a fancy to some guy, they will convey their feelings through their songs at first. After both sides find each other congenial, the girl will give her Tongnian shoes to the guy, to express her profound love to him. So, the making skills of Tongnian shoes feature one of the important requirements of the guys when they are choosing their future partners.