Two Cultures Meet

China and Africa are separated by oceans, but have met over the centuries through trade and through cultural exchange. This spring’s Heritage Excursion will help illuminate some of the traditions of ritual and respect that are important to both of these cultures.

On May 3, we depart by bus from the University Museum at Texas Southern University to travel to the historic Tian Hou Temple in East Houston to learn about rituals of worship. This Daoist temple was founded by some of Houston’s earliest Chinese immigrants as a way of staying in touch with home and with familiar belief practices. A tour guide will acquaint you with deities that are worshipped at the temple and with touching ways of memorializing family members who have died.

Pien Hou Temple

One of the themes of this tour is the demonstration of ritual and respect through clothing worn by women.

The principal goddess at the temple is the goddess for whom the temple is named: Tian Hou. Tian Hou is the Chinese goddess who protects sailors and fisherman. There are many temples in her honor along the coastlines of China. Tian Hou is usually depicted wearing a red robe in paintings or murals, but in sculpture is always clothed in the jewel-festooned robes of an empress holding either a ceremonial tablet or a jeweled staff while wearing the easily recognized flat-topped imperial cap with hanging beads at the front and back. You may observe this characteristic apparel in her statue at the temple here in Houston.

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Following our temple tour we discover more about the Swahili Coast through music, textile, and art presentations at the University Museum followed by a buffet of Chinese and Tanzanian delicacies. A fascinating part of the presentations at TSU will be a display of Swahili wrap cloths used by women. These cloths are printed with proverbs whose topics are subject to speech prohibitions on topics such as love and conflict. They also contain exhortative sayings.

Kanga cloth

An example of a Swahili wrap cloth

By wearing this clothing, a woman is able to say ‘something’ while also saying ‘nothing.’ With this communication the participants have a means to transgress culturally defined boundaries of power and powerlessness. In other words, the cloth lends them a voice of resistance.

Women queuing up to vote wearing wrap cloths.
Women queuing up to vote wearing wrap cloths.

Visit Africa and China without leaving Houston.

Tickets are $25.00 and must be purchased ahead of the tour by calling 713.634.6344 or by emailing AIA at archaeologyhouston@gmail.com.

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