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Dinh Vu


Last updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Cultural Identity from Region to Region

Posted: Friday, February 03, 2017

Throughout history, Vietnamese peoples have stood closely together to fight against invaders, defend our sovereignty, gain independence and freedom, and build the nation. Each people has its own tongue, letter and cultural identity.

Their cultural identities are vividly expressed in community livelihoods and economic activities, from costumes, food, housing, social relationships, marriage customs, funeral, worship, holiday, calendar, arts, entertainment and others.

On the occasion of the Lunar New Year 2017 – the Year of the Rooster, Vietnam Business Forum would like to introduce the remarkable cultural traits of some ethnic groups in the Northwest and Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Cham and traditional dancing festivals

The Cham ethnic group has about 100,000 people, ranked No.17 out of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. The Cham people mostly inhabit in three provinces of Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan and An Giang.

Cham culture features language, writing, arts, earthen tower construction technique, stone statue carving, embroidered fabrics, pattern apparels, woven brocade, ceramics and popular items used for daily life. The Cham people has its own tongue and writing. West Cham uphold and develop Islamic precepts and Quran holy text and they thus use Arab and Malay words. West Cham use Malay letters, while East Cham use Thrah letters.

Cham is always proud of ancient Champa towers made from earth. Ancient Champa dancer patterns are carved into the earthen towers.

Particularly, Cham dances are very rich and unique. Almost every village has its own dance team. Ancient dances are often performed at traditional festivals. Cham artists have composed more special dances like dance with water jar on the head. Fan dance is a popular Cham dance. Dancers use fans as props to represent different types of dance. Religious Bong dancing is very popular for Cham people. The dance is supported by two ba-ra-nung drums and sa-ra-nai trumpet. Cham people have many festivals throughout the year, such as Rija, Roya, Ramadan, Pok Bang Yang and Kate. Particularly, Kate Festival, one of the biggest festivals of the Cham people, is held at the beginning of the seventh lunar in commemoration of national heroes and ancestors.

E-de people and the image of river and boat

The E-de ethic group dwells in the Central and Central Highlands of Vietnam. E-de is the 12th most populous ethic group. Traces of the E-de origin are portrayed by epics, architecture, visual arts and folk cultures.

Coming from the sea, E-de ethnic group uses Malay language. E-de moved to central Vietnam and then the Central Highlands from the eighth to 15th centuries but the E-de culture still vividly illustrates the image of water and boat.

Long stilts of E-de people look like a boat, with the main door opened in the left and windows opened on the side. Inside the stilts has a prow-shaped wooden ceiling. Long stilts are usually 15-100 metres long, depending on the size of household.

E-de people previously lived on hunting, gathering, farming, fishing, knitting and weaving. In agricultural farming, E-de people characteristically used rotational farming methods - arable land has resting periods between farming seasons. Today, the E-de people not only do the farming but also know to process agricultural products, plant industrial crops such as coffee, rubber, pepper and cocoa. In addition to farming, the E-de people rear livestock such as buffalo and elephant. They also make handicrafts, copper bowls, wooden furniture, jewellery and ceramics to serve spiritual rituals and daily life activities.

In the spiritual life, like other ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, E-de sees Giang (Heaven) as the supreme god. E-de thinks natural phenomena are ruled by gods such as Rain God, Mountain God, River God, and Forest God. And they think everything from a house to plant or gong has the soul inside them.

E-de still upholds distinctive cultural festivals and rituals such as buffalo-stabbing festival, new home ritual, life cycle ritual and maturity ceremony. E-de has a rich treasure of oral literature, including myths, tales, folk songs, proverbs, and specially Khan (epics) such as Dam San Khan and Dam Kteh M'lan Khan. E-de people love music and popular musical instruments include gong, drum, flute, Goc, Kni and Dinh Nam.

Today, E-de villages are changing rapidly, but the people still retain traditional cultural practices.

Co Ho people and rice rite

Co Ho, also known as Ko Ho or Koho, is an ethnic minority in Vietnam, mainly living in Lam Dong province. The Co-ho community is comprised of many local groups like Xre, Nop, Co Don, Chil, Lat and Tring. Xre group has the largest population, living in Di Linh Plateau. Co-ho language is Mon-Khmer.

Co-ho residents mainly live on rice cultivation. Xre group grows wet paddy rice while other groups do farming on hills and mountains. Their farming tools include axe, knife, hoe and sowing stick. They also grow fruit trees like jackfruit, avocado, banana, and papaya. Many villages plant coffee and mulberry.

Co-ho believe in many gods: Ndu is the supreme god, followed by Sun God, Moon God, Mountain God, River God, Earth God and Rice God. There are many rice-related rituals such as buffalo stabbing ceremony, seeding ceremony and buffalo foot christening ceremony. Buffalo stabbing ceremony (nho sa ro pu) is a big ceremony, usually held after the old crop harvest and before a new farming season. During their rituals, Co-ho people use many traditional musical instruments. By the nightlight lit by fire, village elders tell their offspring of legends, poets and folk songs about their race and motherland.

Co-ho folk literature and arts are very rich. Their poetry, called Tam pla, is typically lyrical. They perform traditional songs and dances during festivals. Gong, drum, pan-flute, 6-string guitar and flute are their traditional musical instruments.

Muong and agricultural joy

Muong ethnic group has the same origin with ancient Vietnamese, who shared a broad cultural background spanning over centuries. Muong mainly reside in valleys and low hills. They primarily live on agriculture like cultivating rice. Muong villages concentrate in the foothills looking over farming fields or streams. Because of this residential habit, Muong culture is extremely simple but unique.

Muong houses on stilts are typically spacious and convenient for residence. This typical residence allows Muong people to shape distinctive practice in daily life and production. They grow rice in low land, plant crops on hills and rear livestock and poultry at the same time. To harvest rice, Muong created many tools to enhance convenience and productivity. For example, a long-handled sickle enables farmers to cut many rice ears at the same time. For Muong people, doing farming is playing music. They bring music to daily labour activities such as pounding rice.

In agriculture, Muong people use a very special bamboo calendar. They not only use this calendar to calculate days for agricultural production but also use it for important events of a human life. Muong wedding ceremony takes place in the joyful atmosphere. A bride liked by her mother-in-law will have her foot washed by her new mother before she steps into the house. She will also be given a bracelet - a symbol of forever happiness. The wedding ceremony is also an event where legendary epics are cited by witchdoctors.

Thai people and Xen worshiping

In traditional cultures of ethnic groups in the Northwest of Vietnam, ancestor worship and festivals are longstanding traditions and customs handed down from generation to generation, including Xen worship of Thai people.

In Thai language, Xen means worship, or more broadly a worship praying for good weather and lush crops. Xen is annually held in the fourth month of Thai calendar.
The worship takes place before the rainy season and farmers prepare seeds for sowing rice. To prepare for the rite, villagers assign a member of a family that found the village to invite witchdoctor to exercise worshipping.

Right from early morning of the ceremonial day, bamboo gates are erected in entry and exit gates to stop passers-by during the worship time. At 8:00 am, the witchdoctor starts the ceremony under the shade of an ancient banyan tree in the village.

Offerings include a black pig head, two chicken, one egg, rice bowls, incenses and candles. The witchdoctor takes a rice pannier, a fishing net and a hammer on the table and pray in witchdoctor language to pray for good weather and good harvests, ward off evil spirits, and bring health and prosperous life to all people. Then, he takes a piece of bamboo, halves it and then tosses them up.

When two pieces of bamboo falling down, if one is upside down, the prayer is accepted by the Heavenly God. The worship takes about 30 minutes. The offerings will be offered to the witchdoctor and ritual lead (who represent villagers). After the rite is completed, the ritual lead takes offering back home and treats the witchdoctor with a cup of wine. All villagers join the festive and enjoy meals in a joyful atmosphere.

Young boys and girls divide into two groups and play ball-throwing. Players will try to throw the ball into a small circle hung on the bamboo tree. Winners will take wine. After the festive, villagers go to field to start a new crop.

Quynh Anh

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