daaih gap (Cantonese Opera Armour)

About this object

History of use

Top military general’s dakao (full armour) is densely adorned designed to magnify body movements. Large hip panels sway freely as the warrior walks forward. Full costume is worn with four of six flags on the back and matching platform boots. Flags flutter in the air as the general spins across the stage, and headdress feathers’ movements can be manipulated to express different emotions.

Narrative

A large group of Cantonese opera costumes, musical instruments, props, trunks, and stage fittings was left with the Jin Wah Sing Musical Association, apparently by some of the many itinerant troupes visiting Vancouver to perform in the Chinatown theatres in the pre World War II period. There is no certain knowledge of why these materials were not taken back to China by them. They were used by the Jin Wah Sing Musical Association in their performances until they became too dated. The association continued to preserve them carefully, storing them in their headquarters and in the basement of the Chinese Freemasons building until several groups of materials were sold and donated to the Museum of Anthropology.

Cultural context

theatre

Iconographic meaning

The narrow sleeves indicate that this costume is for a military role rather than a civil role. The fact that the officer was of middle rank is indicated by the fact that the costume is relatively small and with less ornate decoration. The round disk represents a mirror to deflect evil forces.

Specific techniques

All seams are enclosed. All stitching that can be seen is hand-sewn. Cotton lining is pasted to outer layer. Wear on other costumes made of similar fabric suggests that it is silk warp with cotton weft, or vice-versa. Embroidered sections are done with long satin stitches.

Physical description

White armour robe with slender sleeves, epaulets and a side opening with brass frog fasteners. Below the waist, the armour divides into one front panel and three back panels. On the front are fu dog, bird, triple cash, endless knot, sun and peony motifs in silver, blue, green, pink, red and orange on a white ground. The collar band has peony motifs in silver, green and pink. The sleeves have multicoloured bird, narcissus, peony and swastika motifs. On the back are butterfly, bat, fish, lotus, endless knot and peony motifs. On each of the large back panels there are five tassels in yellow, turquoise, pink, green and orange. On the front are six large tassels in turquoise, green, orange, yellow and pink. There are green glass eyes, tin reflectors, bells and white fur on the front and back. The inside lining is white cotton.