Cultural And Customs of Ethnic Minorities in Sapa Vietnam
Cultural And Customs of Ethnic Minorities in Sapa Vietnam
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Sapa is a mountainous district which is 38km far from Lao Cai province. It always stays in the heart of each visitor a special feeling thanks to not only its nature has bestowed on Sapa, a land with spectacular peak of Fansipan mountain, poetic landscape of Ham Rong Mountain, Orchid Garden, Rose Garden, the Silver Falls, Gold streams, ect but also where the diversity of ethnic groups has made the richness of the cultural identity.
The culture and the customs of the locals in Sapa bases on their beliefs and it also shows in the local festivals and traditional architecture or handicraft; their activities and their funeral or marriages of the daily life. Hope you find our below information useful if you plan to discover this charming land.
THE CULTURE OF SAPA
The Tay’s beliefs: The Tay worship the tutelary gods who are gods of the natural environment, and ancestors and the progenitors of human groups and the midwife.
The H’mong’s beliefs: Like the Tay people, H’mong people also worship their ancestors, and the god of the house, the god of the kitchen, even the god of the door. Besides, there are different rituals which do not allow people to walk into the H’mong house or their villages. For example, a green tree branch in the front door indicates that entrance is forbidden.
The Daos’s beliefs: Dao religion has elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. They worship the family’s ancestor and also the legendary holy man called Ban Vuong who is considered the earliest ancestor of the Dao people.
The Giay’s beliefs: The Giay altar is located in the middle of the house with three incense bowls set from the left to the right in order to worship the God of Kitchen, Heaven and Earth, and the family ancestor. If the head of the house is a son-in-law who wants to worship his real parents, he must set up a fourth incense bowl which is far to the left. If a family has no altar for the Mother spirit, they set a fifth incense bowl to the right. Some families set up a small altar beside the big one to worship their parents-in-law.
Marriage: Young Tay men and women are free to love, but the decision to become husband and wife is based on their parents’. The boy’s parents need to know the potential bride’s fortune so they can compare it to their son’s. To do this, they will go to see the astrologer who judges how well matched they are. If the signs look favorable, the marriage can take place.
After the wedding, the wife will stay with her parents until she is pregnant. She will only go to live at her husband’s house in the late stages of pregnancy.
Funeral: The funeral rituals are quite similar to Viet-King custom. The funeral brings the deceased's spirit to another world after they’re gone. Three years later, there is a ritual to bring the spirit to the ancestors and to end the mourning period. There will be a certain day in honor of the deceased.
Production activities: The Tay use traditional wet rice cultivation which is grown on the hills with very little water. It is well utilized using irrigation methods like digging canals and laying water pipes. By such intensive cultivation methods, they produce high quantities of food for not only their village but also the other areas in town.
Marriage: For the Black H’mong, it is important that a girl knows how to embroider and work in the field. Those skills are more important than her beauty. Boys and girls are literally allowed to get to know each other before they get married. They go to the love market where they eat and sing songs together and after that, the boy can propose to the girl and if she agrees, she will go to live in his house. She will be put in a small room and visited by the boy’s mother and sisters who give her food and persuade her to accept the marriage.
For the boy, he must give the bride’s family silver coins, pigs, chicken and rice wine for the wedding ceremony. The bride has times to decide if she accepts the marriage – even after living with her husband for a few days, she can choose to break their agreement. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he will live in her house until he is able to marry her.
Funeral: When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children fire a gun to let everyone in the area know. People in the village come to the deceased's house with everything they have – chicken, rice, a small pig or rice wine – to help the family. Everybody will sing and eat until the deceased is wrapped in a mat and taken to a grave by one group, while the coffin, which has been kept in a cave somewhere near the grave, is carried by another group separately. Both groups have to run very fast and meet at the grave to make sure the deceased forget the way home. If the deceased’s family is not able to supervise the funeral rituals, they can wait for a few years before organizing a special one called “Ma Kho”.
Artistic activities: The Black H’mong are very skillful at making agricultural tools, wooden furniture, musical instruments, and jewelry. They are also well-known for their handicraft and embroidery. They, in general terms, only make such items to meet their own needs, but other minorities in the area buy their produce because of its high quality. Since the blooming of tourism in Sa Pa, many H’mong women make decorated clothes to sell on the town’s main streets.
Red Dao and White Dao's marriage customs of minority groups in sapaMarriage: Compared to the H’mong customs, the Dao’s parents select the partners for their sons. When a boy is fourteen or fifteen years old, his father will take him to have a look at a girl who he thinks is fit and healthy and can help with the housework. The couple chooses the date to get married then have to consult a diviner who judges their compatibility based on a ritual using a chicken leg and their horoscopes.
The girl’s value is shown by how many silver coins, chickens, pigs and jars of rice wine that the boy’s family will have to give to her family.
During the marriage ceremony, the groom will carry the bride on his back, and she must step over a blessed pair of scissors to cross the threshold into his house.
When there is no son in the family, the parents can buy a groom who will live happily with his bride’s family. However, if a boy is so poor that his family can’t afford a dowry, he has to live in his bride’s house – which causes him great shame.
Funeral: When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children have to invite a man called “thay tao” to supervise the rituals and find the right piece of land for a grave. The deceased is wrapped in a mat, placed in a coffin inside their house and carried to a grave of stones. In the past, if the deceased was over 12 years old, the body was cremated.
The funeral rituals are celebrated to ensure that the deceased rests in peace. The ceremony, which lasts for three days, usually coincides with initiation rites for Red Dao boys. The first day liberates the spirit of the deceased, the second day is a time to worship the deceased at home, and the third day is the boy’s initiation rite.
The boy has to sit on a throne at the highest place of the village till he falls into hammocks hanging below him. This represents him falling down from the sky to be born on earth, another symbol of the Dao belief that they are descendents of God.
Marriage: The procedure for marriage is strongly based on Chinese traditions. It means the groom’s family will give the bride a necklace and a bracelet to show their intentions – a kind of engagement. For the wedding, the groom’s family must offer the bride’s family food and money and give close relatives a chicken, a duck, and a silver coin. Once married, the bride will be carried to her new house on the groom’s back, as if she walked, her spirit would find its way back to her parents.
Funeral: Giay people believe that if a funeral is well organized, the dead will go to heaven gathering with their ancestors happily. If not, the dead will be forced to live in hell or become animals. With the wealthy family, the funeral can last from five to seven days with extra rituals such as running along the river to lead the spirit on a procession. The children must mourn their parent’s death for one year.
The Xa Pho
Marriage: Young Xa Pho has the right to have sexual relationships before they’re married. The Xa Pho has a very low population, so the man wants to make sure his partner can have children. The marriage will be organized after the young couple knows the woman is pregnant. The future bride starts making her wedding dress while her groom prepares pigs, chicken and other food for the wedding.
Funeral: The deceased will be placed in the middle of the house, with the head in the direction of the household altar. Water used to wash the deceased’s face is left to evaporate. There must be a bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks and a barbecued or roasted chicken next to the altar. The deceased’s children put straw around the wooden coffin, as they used to use straw as mattresses. The coffin is buried in a grave or a tomb. Lots of people will attend the funeral to ensure that the spirit of the dead doesn’t stay at the tomb or cemetery.