1. Co Lao Ethnic Group
The Co Lao are concentrated in the districts of Dong Van and Hoang Su Phi in Ha Giang province. Their economy primary consists of agriculture, cultivating rice and corns, with their fields situated on the rocky mountain slopes. A number of crafts also play an important role, such as carpentry and weaving.
The villages are located high up in the peaks, and consist of about 15 to 20 houses, clustered closely together, with each house having three main spaces.
The women wear the same type of shirt as the Nung or Giay people do, although it is a bit longer, extending below the knee. They are decorated with coloured cloth on the chest and sleeve, and traditionally the White Co Lao would wear a shorter sleeved shirt to show off the white cloth covering the lining.
The marriage practices differ somewhat between the groups, with for example the Green Co Lao grooms wearing long green and red robes. Usually, the bride arrives at the gate, and the groom’s family must then break a bowl with a wooden ladle before she steps over the gate. Young couples generally don’t live together before the wedding, and the kidnapping” ritual is still common.
For funerals, there are two rites. First a smaller funeral with family, and then a bigger ceremony including the whole community. Additionally, the Red Co Lao have a tradition of arranging stones around a grave, creating one new circle every 10 years, each circle being covered in soil and topped by the new circle.
The Co Lao worship their ancestors, as well the gods of the earth and fields symbolized by a peculiar stone placed on top of the highest rocks in a field.
2. La Chi Ethnic Group
The La Chi live mainly in the districts of Bac Quang, Hoang Su Phi, and Xin Man in Ha Giang Province, as well as the districts of Bac Ha and Muong Khuong in Lao Cai Province. They are skilled at breaking fresh ground, as well as cultivating rice on terraced fields.
Villages consist of 50 to 60 families, with each home made half on stilts and half on the ground. The houses have three living spaces, with the altar placed in the largest space and the part of the house not on stilts being the kitchen.
Men keep their hear long over the shoulder, or inside turbans, while the women wear pants or skirts, with the traditional dress being split in the middle with embroidered bibs, cloth belts and headgear nearly 3 meters long. Dark indigo is a very popular colour for fabric, and women wear bracelets and earrings, while men only wear bracelets.
Placing infants with foster parents is a common practice, as it is believed that when a child cries too much, it’s due to his or her family name being unsuitable.
When parents are buried, the children spend the day remembering their life, and do not work the fields or engage in labour.
During the Tet holiday, children sing and play string instruments, flutes, drums and gongs.
3. La Ha ethnic group
The La Ha reside mainly in the provinces of Lao Cai and Son La. Originally the La Ha practiced wet farming, but today it has been replaced by milpa farming, complemented by hunting and gathering.
They generally live in two types of stilt houses. The first type belongs to the groups who practice shifting cultivation and are so semi-nomadic. These houses have an oval shaped roof and are usually deconstructed and moved after 1-3 years. The second type are the permanent houses, where the sedentary groups live, which have a shell shaped roof, similar to that of Black Thai houses.
The La Ha family structure is patriarchal, with children taking the name of their father and wives the name of their husband. A dowry is presented to the bride’s family, and young couples are free to get to know each other before marriage, and pick their own spouses.
After the wedding, the groom will live and work with his wife’s family for 4 to 8 years, at which point a second ceremony takes place, featuring rice wine, after which the wife is welcomed into her husband’s home, and changes her family name to her husband’s.
The La Ha worship at home like the Thai, and leave vegetables, leaves and meat by the front door as a ritual. These are suspended when a family member dies.
Culturally the La Ha sing and write poetry in the Thai language, and two typical dances are the Penis (Lin Ga) Dance and Bow and Sword Dance.
4. Pu Peo Ethnic Group
The Pu Peo live in the districts of Dong Van, Meo Cav and Yen Ninh in Ha Giang province.
Traditionally they live in single-story houses at high altitudes. They specialize in planting corn and beans using modern technology to help with the difficult mountainous fields.
Some Pu Peo plant rice terraces and use cattle as a beast of burden. Common crafts include tiling and carpentry.
The women wear brightly coloured fabrics, with two layers of clothing. The outer layer is a coat split in the middle and decorated on the fringes with many-coloured cloth. The inner layer has buttons under the left arm and its fringes are decorated in the same manner.
The marriage process has several steps. First the bride and groom meet and get to know each other, and then the bridesmaids must carry the bride through the gate to the groom’s family. During the ceremony, food is put in a basket which the bride and groom both eat from together with their fingers. Both families will commonly sing at the wedding for 3-4 hours, and this has become a very unique art, as well as being especially entertaining for the children.
The Pu Peo worship their ancestors, and all houses have an altar with a small glazed terracotta pot symbolizing the venerated ancestor, 1 for each.