1. Cong Ethnic Group
The Cong are concentrated in the communes of Muong Te District, Lai Chau province. Their economy is mainly based on upland cultivation with out-dated farming techniques such as deforestation, burning fields, digging holes and spreading seeds. Nowadays, they know how to use hoes and traction, know cotton growing but do not know fabric weaving. There are some additional occupations, such as knitting, hunting and gathering.
The Cong live in stilt houses with 3 or 4 rooms with only one entrance. Running along the main wall of the house is a small floor with little value for usage, but every house has it which forms the typical characteristics of Cong architecture.
In social life, women have an important role. The ritual of living with your wife’s family is strictly implemented, and would use to last 8-12 years. After proposing, men come to live with the woman’s family, and then women will bun their hair to the top of their head, which is a sign of a married woman. When this period ends, a ceremony is carried out to take the bride to the groom. If the groom’s house is in the same village as the bride’s, the groom must carry his bride back to his house. During the wedding day, they do not wear new clothes because there is a ritual of pouring ash water on people who go to take the bride to the groom’s house before leaving to pray for good fortune.
A Cong funeral consists of many typical features. The dead are placed in coffins made by a tree trunk split into two parts and hollowed out. 12 days after burying the dead, the descendants are allowed to set up the altar. Children mourning parents will either shave their head (son), or cut sideburns (daughter) and wear mourning cloth until the “worshiping the new rice” ritual is held.
In terms of worship, the Cong worship their ancestors of the last 3 generations, as well as your wife’s ancestors. Every year in Lunar March, every village holds a worship ceremony before the seed spreading season. During this time the road to the village will be barred for strangers, and they spend the holiday singing and dancing.
2 - Ha Nhi Ethnic Group
The Ha Nhi settled mainly along the Vietnamese-Chinese and Vietnamese-Laotian border in the districts of Bat Xat (Lao Cai), and Muong Te (Lai Chau). The Ha Nhi grow rice on terraced fields, and they are skilled at clearing the fields on the mountain slopes. Raising livestock and poultry is done with grazing, and buffaloes are grazed in the forest, often numbering in the hundreds. Handicraft includes weaving and knitting, and gathering also plays a significant role in daily life.
A village consists many families, with many villages having up to 50-60 households. The houses are built strongly; with walls reaching a thickness of 40 to 60cm. Village communal characteristics are expressed clearly in all areas of life. For marriage, each region has its own traditions; but generally the boy and girl are free to spend time with each other prior to the wedding. In the Bat Xat area, weddings are held twice; first to take the bride to the husband’s family, then the second time is organized by the bride’s family.
Ha Nhi women give birth while standing, and a family with a new-born will be marked by an upside down hat by on the front door. If the pile is on the right side, the child is a girl, and if it is on the left the child is a boy. When a person dies the burial site is chosen by throwing eggs, and they avoid burying during the rainy season. During this time, the deceased are placed in the grave without filling it, or placed on a platform in a funeral home.
3. La Hu ethnic group
The La Hu are concentrated in the communes of Pa U, Pa Ve Su, Ka Lang of Muong Te district, Lai Chau province. The La Hu mainly carries out shifting cultivation with a high rotation rate. Recently, they have gradually shifted to growing on terraced fields. The La Hu are famous for weaving and gorging. Hunting, fishing and gathering play a particularly important role in their economic life.
Currently, the La Hu commonly live in a house on the ground, and the kitchen, bedroom and altar are always in the same room. For marriage, during the wedding ceremony, the groom's gifts to the bride must include dry squirrel meat, and the bride lives with her husband’s family after the wedding.
When someone dies, people fire guns to chase away ghosts and notify relatives. They worship ancestors, parents and relatives only on the occasion of the new rice, in July, and during weddings and funerals.
4. Lo Lo Ethnic Group
The Lo Lo reside mainly in the districts of Dong Van, Meo Vac (Ha Giang), Bao Lac (Cao Bang), and Muong Khuong (Lao Cai). The Lo Lo mainly practice wet farming and sedentary cultivation.
The villages are located on the mountain slopes and near a water source, with each village consisting of around 20-30 houses, with three types: land houses, half land and stilt houses.
Traditionally women wear shirts with a round neck and a rip on the chest, and some subgroups wear pullovers with a square neck and pants with long legs, while others wrap themselves in short skirts with their legs covered by a kind of boot names “xa cap”. Clothing is usually decorated with patterns and colours, printed with wax.
Weddings are extravagant, and thus often turn into an economic calculation. After marriage, the wife resides with her husband’s family.
For funerals, there are many unique practices such as makeup, dancing and even fighting. The Lo Lo also developed a script long ago, but it is no longer used.
For art, the Lo Lo are famous for their use of the copper drum, which is used during funerals to keep the rhythm for dancers. Married men with pregnant wives are not allowed to use the drum. When the drum is not being used, it will be buried in a safe spot.
5. Phu La Ethnic Group
The Phu La are concentrated in the provinces of Ha Giang, Lai Chau, Son La and most especially Lao Cai. Their economy is based on upland cultivation with terrace fields, and bamboo and rattan weaving. They use crossbows with poisoned arrows for hunting, and also grow cotton.
Clothing varies between the groups. Women from Phu La Lao - Bo Ko Pa groups wear short skirts and shirts, square-neck pullovers embroidered and decorated with beads, and belts made from studded mountain shells. The other groups wear pants, long shirts with a rip on the chest or short shirts with a rip on the underarm. Men's shirts in the Phu La Lao group are unique, as behind the back there are many beads attached. Phu La men and women both often carry fabric bags.
Men and women are free to get to know each other before marriage, and if they like each other, can even sleep in the same bed. During the wedding there are rituals involving wine and carrying the bride back to the groom’s house.
When giving birth, women sit down, and beds are made from straw cushions.
The Phu La worship their male ancestors for health, and female ancestors for good harvests.
Chinese script is used by some Phu La for daily communication, and they have a rich history of folk literature. They also use trumpets and drums, and children often sing folk-songs.
6. Si La Ethnic Group
The Si La resides in a few villages in the Muong Te district, Lai Chau. Previously, they specialized in shifting upland cultivation, but now they sustain themselves mainly by growing rice and corn on fields and upland fields, but gathering also plays an important role in life.
The Si La live in houses with two rooms and two small wings, with a porch and one entrance, and a fire pit located in the middle of the room. Women wear long skirts, short shirts with an exposed belly, buttoned on the right underarm, and the chest is adorned with many silver and aluminium coin, and the neck and sleeves are decorated by attaching different coloured fabric strips. They also wear turbans, which have several variants depending on social status.
Dyeing of teeth is also common, with men dyeing them red, and women black. Family relations are tight, and the oldest member is considered the head, who has a major role in regulating the personal relationships within the family.
Boys and girls are allowed to get to know each other and live together before marriage. Weddings consist of two stages, where in the first the groom carries the bride back to his house, and in the second the groom’s family delivers money to the bride’s family.
During funerals, the community sings traditional songs, and pour water on the grave after burial. Sons mourning their parents will tie their hair in a bun.
A worship ceremony is also held by the whole village every year to pray for good health for them and their animals.