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Official Gazette

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The "Dao" ethnic minority - its customs and practices

Updated: 16:17’ - 23/02/2011

By TO DONG HAI

With a population of 527,524 people, (According to the 1994 census figure released by the Population Statistics General Department) the Dao ethnic minority ranks eighth among ethnic groups of Vietnam. They reside largely in the northern mountain provinces of Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Cao Bang, Bac Thai, Lang Son, Lai Chau, Son La, Lao Cai and Yen Bai on earth and rock mountains with rugged terrains. That is why most of Dao people have so far still practiced their farming on terraced fields. The water rice acreage accounts for a small percentage. The Dao ethnic minority in Vietnam is divided into such different subgroups which are distinguished from one another through their costumes (mainly the women’s), their origins as well as their customs and practices, as Dai Ban, Ao Dai, Tieu Ban, Quan chet, Quan trang, Dao tien, Thanh y, Thanh phan, Dao do, Lo Gang. However, these subgroups have constituted an unified ethnicity, sharing the same language, the same culture, the same ancestor (Ban Vuong, according to their legend).

The Dao in Vietnam have a close relationship with the Dzao in China. According to some Chinese historical books, the Dao and Muong people are thought to have the same stock, belonging to the language group of Mong-Dao. Some documents said that the Dao people first resided in the areas surrounding Dongtinghu of Hunan province of China (about 3 to 4 thousand years ago) and the areas south of Chanjiang river (China). By the 14th century, the first groups of Dao had migrated into Vietnam.

It can be said that the Dao, as an ethnicity, has, due to certain historical conditions, had to adapt itself to different social and natural conditions, having existed in extremely diversified social institutions. On that basis, they have formulated their own customs and practices, which bear the generalities of the whole group and particularities of each subgroup. These rules and conventions were clearly manifested through “Le cap sac”, a particular ritual organized by the Dao people for a man reaching his adulthood. During the ritual, that person shall be given teachings on 10 things not to be done. (Not to kill animals; not to insult Heaven and Earth; not to scold parents or relatives; not to cheat others; not to be coward and obscene; not to disdain brothers, friends and relatives; not to be fearful of difficulties and hardships; not to show respect for the rich while disdaining the poor; not to scold deities) and 10 questions (Do you dare to go if the river or stream water is rising; do you dare to go if it is raining heavily or stormy; do you dare to go if your travel is obstructed by animals and insects; do you dare to go at midnight if you are so invited; do you dare to go if a seriously ill person urgently needs hospitalization; do you dare to go if you have to surmount mountains and passes; do you dare to go if you are stopped by the enemy; shall you go if you are invited by the poor... And the only answer to all these questions is “yes”).

These are the qualities required by the Dao community of its members. Honesty, courage, full devotion to other people and respect for the regulations and customs of the community have constituted a firm foundation of the Dao conventions. Those who violate such rules can be excluded from the spiritual or even social life of the community.

In the social life, the Dao women play minor role which is usually restricted in the family. If a married woman becomes issueless, her husband is entitled to marry a concubine. For some cases, the women take initiative in finding concubines for their husbands.

For the Dao people, the marriage is mostly arranged by the parents. After the girl’s family accepts the proposal, the young man’s family has to prepare a lot of wedding presents which shall be brought to the girl’s family for the bride-taking ritual. Usually, the girl shall stay in her husband’s home. But in cases where the family has only one or no son, the bridegroom can stay in his in-laws’. If so, he has to change his family name to his wife’s; and his children have also to bear the family name of his wife.

Living in a Dao hamlet are many families of different lineages, of which the main lineage - often the one with the founder of the hamlet or with the scorcerer who knows many traditional customs and can read ancient books (written in Chinese characters or scripts of the Dao people). The hamlet chief is often chosen and proclaimed with respect by the people, who shall preside over all communal rituals. He plays an important role, being fully competent to settle disputes among people. Any violation of rules or conventions shall be tried by the hamlet chief whose decisions must be respected by all in the hamlet.

It can be said that the Dao society is tightly organized. Strongly influenced by Taoism, the Dao people’s conventions also carry in themselves the strength of divine power, making the observance of the common rules within the Dao community very strict. Hardly seen are violations of customs and practices as disputes or quarrels among villagers. The people’s submission to the hamlet chief facilitates the communal work. That is a good factor for building model hamlets in which the relationships among members of the community shall be well regulated thanks to the promotion of positive elements of their traditional customs and practices
VNL_KH1 

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