Associate Professor BUI XUAN DINH
The Viet (Kinh) is the largest among 54 ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, accounting for 86% of the total population.
It is the only group living in all provinces and cities nationwide, but mostly in plain areas, occupying big cities, towns and trunk roads.
According to legend, in the third millennium BC, Loc Tuc, who was the son of Than Nong (Emperor Shennong), was designated to be Kinh Duong Vuong (the King of Kinh Duong) to rule the South. The son of Kinh Duong Vuong, Sung Lam, also called Lac Long Quan (Dragon Lord of Lac), married to Au Co, the ancestor of the Viet in the South. The couple had 100 sons, the eldest of whom was Hung King, the king of Van Lang.
Archaeological materials showed that the ancestor of the Viet was Lac Viet group, which belonged to Bach Viet larger group, living in vast areas in northern Vietnam and southern China. Anthropologically, the Lac Viet was the intermediary group between Mongoloid and Australoid groups.
Around 3,500-4,000 years ago, in the northern and northern central regions, Lac Viet group formed archaeological cultures, from Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, Go Mun to Dong Son, the richest of all, which was characterized by the wet rice civilization and handicraft making with bronze drums as the typical product.
The formation of these cultures prepared conditions for the Viet to establish their first chiefdom: Van Lang - Au Lac. It was also the process to create Viet culture with its own identity. Owing to this cultural structure, subject to the ruling of the Chinese feudal regime for thousands of years, Viet people were not assimilated and kept on their enduring struggle for independence, which finally won in the early 10th century.
With the highest level of socio-economic development of all ethnic minority groups, the Viet retained its key role in the history of Vietnam. The group possessed key economic industries and generated the largest economic resource for the country. Viet people made a majority of and held key positions in the political system. Viet language is the national language and the group’s culture dominated Vietnamese culture.
The Viet also played the leading role in organizing insurrections and wars against invaders to regain and protect national independence and sovereignty. In the early 11th century, the group expanded the country’s land to the south from the northern delta.
The Viet lived in villages (lang or cha). Each village was a complete unit with its own territory, physical structure (village roads and worshiping places), organizational apparatus, customs, dialect and characteristics. Each village usually had a name in Nom (Chinese-transcribed Vietnamese), which often started with the word Ke accompanied by another Nom word, such as Ke Noi, Ke Goi and Ke Nga, and another name in Han Viet (Chinese Vietnamese), which was transcribed from Nom and used in administrative documents.
Each Viet village was a self-governed institution with different organizations such as thon (hamlet), family lines, phe giap (faction), hoi (society) and a managerial apparatus, of which giap (the organization of male villagers) was the most important for it took charge of most village affairs.
Every village had its own conventions to govern relations and define responsibilities and obligations of organizations, individuals and villages toward the community and the State. The village was the foundation of the country, being the center in the household-village-state relation.
Thousands years after gaining sovereignty, the Viet developed their culture, which was formed from the time of national construction by Hung Kings and received positive influences of Chinese, Indian and, later, western cultures.
Viet culture is remarkably characterized by its culinary with foods, drinks and eating styles relevant to natural conditions of each region.
Viet costume is symbolized by ao dai (long dress of women), which raises the beauty and grace of women, and non (conical hat) which, together with ao dai, makes the Vietnamese symbol overseas.
The Viet’s tangible culture is reflected in the structure of villages and houses which are arranged in harmony with the landscape of each region. Each village has a dinh (communal house) where common activities of the village are held. Dinh is the largest tangible element of the village culture, symbolizing the stability, prosperity and community spirit of a village.
A Viet village has a temple to worship thanh hoang (tutelary god of the village), who is believed to protect villagers. Thanh hoang can be the village founder, the founder of a traditional handicraft, the first scholar of the village or a military general with major contributions to the cause of national defense.
A village also has a pagoda to worship Buddha and a shrine dedicated to Confucius and scholars of the village to promote the spirit of learning.
The rich and original culture of the Viet consists of intangible elements, the most dominant of which is its folklore with fairy tales, legendary tales, proverbs and verses characterizing each region. In the 14th century, the scholarly literature was formed and developed with numerous literary works in Chinese and Nom. In the mid 19th century, works in Vietnamese appeared.
Viet intangible culture is also reflected in customs (marriage and funeral) and social relations which promote a lifestyle of affection, discipline and community spirit.
The Viet also possesses an original music with numerous musical instruments and folksongs such as cheo (traditional popular opera), ca tru (ceremonial song), Bac Ninh quan ho (love duet, recognized as a world cultural heritage).
The Viet’s religion and belief are characterized by the combination of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism with such local beliefs as worshiping of ancestors and Emperor Shennong and belief in animism. The peak of belief activities is the village festival, a stage of the farm production cycle, which is held to meet farmers’ spiritual needs. Together with dinh, the village festival is the essence of the community spirit.
The Confucian education and examination system, which was learned from Chinese and adapted to local conditions, is another trait of Viet culture.
The Viet in the northern region have cultural influences on other ethnic groups in regions nationwide thanks to their high adaptability, which allows them to easily live in different environments and conditions and create new cultural characteristics where they live.-