1. Dao Ethnic Group
The Dao originated in China, before moving to Vietnam starting in the 12th century, and lasting until the first half of the 20th century. Dao people usually live on the mountain slopes in the Northern provinces, however a group of white pant Dao live down in the valleys, and Red Dao live high up on the mountain peaks.
Hamlets usually consist of five to seven scattered houses, and the building style can vary greatly depending on where they live, ranging from huts on the ground to houses set on stilts.
The primary economic activity is farming, with the cultivation methods again varying depending on location. The White Pants Dao, Long Shirt Dao and Thanh Y Da specialize in wet fields, while the Red Dao specialize in dry fields. The remaining Dao groups either do a combination of these or sedentary cultivation raising cattle, pigs, and chickens, as well as goats and horses in the mountains. Cultivation of cotton and the weaving of fabrics is also important to their daily life and their signature cloth is dyed indigo. Most villages also have a blacksmith which can even create their own type of flintlock weapon! There are also some silversmiths, though this is an hereditary occupation.
Traditionally, men would have long hair kept in a bun, and shaved around. They different groups would also have traditional turbans, and two types of shirts (short and long sleeves). Women dress meanwhile is very diverse, normally consisting of long robes, bibs, skirts and pants. Clothes are generally colourful, and according to Dao customs, they will hang green leaves or banana flowers above doors during childbirth, this protects the soul of the child from evil spirits.
During weddings, the families will sing, and the groom comes to the bride’s house to “kidnap” her, carrying her back to his family home.
In terms of religion, the Dao believe in folk beliefs, agricultural rituals and have deep influences from Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.
The generations that constructed a village are considered the original ancestors of a Dao community, and are worshipped together with individual families’ ancestors. The Dao also has a rich history of folk art, including the famous stories of “Gourd with Deluge” and “The history of the primitive ancestors”.
2. H’mong Ethnic Group
H’mong people are concentrated in the mountainous provinces of Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Lao Cai, Lai Chau, Son La, Tuyen Quang, Yen Bai, Thanh Hoa and Nghe An. Their economy mainly depends on shifting cultivation or sedentary cultivation and terraced fields of maize, wheat, and barley. Additional occupations include growing flax, opium cultivation (previously), and fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches, plums and weaving linen. The Hmong mainly raises cattle, pigs, chickens, and horses, with the horses are very close to each Hmong family.
Markets in the H’mong areas satisfy both the need to exchange goods, as well as social and cultural activities. H’mong costumes are colourful and varied among the groups, and the different groups can be distinguished by the colour of their women’s clothing.
White Hmong women wear white dresses, a shirt with a rip on chest and embroidered patterns in the sleeves, back bibs, shaved hair with a cap and wear turbans with wide brims.
Flower Hmong women wear indigo skirts embroidered with floral motifs or printed flower made of wax, with underarm rips, shoulders and chest covered by coloured fabric and embroidered.
Black Hmong women wear skirts of indigo cloth, with printed patterns of wax with chest rips.
Blue Hmong women wear tube skirts.
When Green Hmong women marry, they place their hair in a bun, with horseshoe combs and cover a turban to form into two horns.
The H’mong places great emphasis on respecting your family, including those who have common ancestors. Each family’s typical characteristics are shown in ancestor worshipping rituals such as “door ghost” or “midwife ghost”.
People who have the same ancestors are prohibited from getting married. Emotion among people in the same family runs very deep and the head of the whole family has prestige and is respected and trusted.
During weddings, the bride will be collected from her family home and carried to her groom’s house. Spouses are close, usually visiting the market together.
In terms of worship, the various house spirits take centre stage, for example the “House Ghost”, the “Kitchen Ghost”, and the “Door Ghost”. The traditional H’mong holiday is in early lunar December, which includes climbing activities, music and dancing.
3. Pa Then Ethnic Group
The Pa Then are concentrated in a number of communes in Bac Quang district, Ha Giang Province and Chiem Hoa district, Tuyen Quang Province. Economy mainly revolves around upland cultivation; but gathering still plays a significant role in economic life. Weaving is also important, with their products being preferred by the surrounding groups.
Villages are concentrated along streams, valleys or in low mountainous areas. They make use of a variety of building styles like stilt houses and huts on the ground. Men wear blouses and long pants with indigo leaves, and a turban wrapped around their head. Women meanwhile wear long skirts, shirts, bibs and turbans in many patterns but with red as the main colour. Silver jewellery is also very common.
Culturally they have a rich tradition of singing, flutes and games.