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'Fish Leather Tribe'

THE "Fish Leather Tribe" of the Hezhe ethnic group live in northeastern China, along the Heilongjiang, Songhuajiang and Wusuli rivers.

In ancient times, they made their living mostly by fishing. Not only did they cook fish for food, they also made marvelous clothing from fish skins, and thus were known as the "Fish Leather Tribe." They also made shelters and boats using fish skins. Different species of fish were used to make different articles of clothing - pants, dresses, boots, leggings, gloves, hats and other articles. They used fish-skin threads to stitch and strong fish-bone needles.

Some fish were huge, their skins were tough and leathery and bore beautiful scale patterns. The clothing was smooth, supple and durable and ceremonial clothes were decorated.

Before the 1950s, many of Hezhe people wore fish skin clothes, but today they wear ordinary cotton, polyester, blends and silk like everyone else.

Today the fish costumes are in museums.

Making fish leather clothing involved a complicated process. The fish skin was removed, the scales were scraped off with a wooden knife, the oily skin was hammered with a wooden mallet and dried.

Afterward the fish leather was as soft as cotton and water-proof, ideal for people who lived around water.

A suit of clothes made from salmon fish leather (pictured right) is displayed in the Shanghai Museum. The clothing made for a man was decorated with delicate patterns resembling sea waves.


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