Community spirit high among the Xinh-mun
One of 27 Mon-Khmer language ethnic minority groups, the Xinh-mun was called Xa Puoc by the Thai, i.e., Xa people protected by the Thai, while the group calls itself K’sing mul, which means mountain people.

Associate Prof. Dr. BUI XUAN DINH


One of 27 Mon-Khmer language ethnic minority groups, the Xinh-mun was called Xa Puoc by the Thai, i.e., Xa people protected by the Thai, while the group calls itself K’sing mul, which means mountain people.

With a population of 18,000, the Xinh-mun live in the northern mountainous provinces of Son La, Lai Chau and Dien Bien.

The Xinh-mun has two sub-groups: Da and Nghet which are believed to be named after geographical names. The Xinh-mun Da came from Na Da village in Son La province while the Xinh-mun Nghet originated from Na Nghet village in Laos’ Xam Nua province. Statistics on the population of each group are unavailable.

Linguistic, ethnological and historical proofs show that the Xinh-mun and other Mon-Khmer language ethnic minority groups were native inhabitants of Vietnam’s northwestern region and north Indochina from ancient times. In the early years of the Christian era, tribes of this language family formed big nations. Of the Mon-Khmer language ethnic minority groups in Vietnam’s northwestern region, the Xinh-mun and the Mang had the oldest history of residence. They lived in valleys, grew wet rice and organized a rather complete social structure. Each group had a head who could pass his position to his son and knew how to use bronze drums.

By the XIIIth century, Thai people from Thailand entered the northwestern region, forcing the Xinh-mun and other Mon-Khmer language ethnic minority groups to leave for high mountainous regions, living on upland cultivation.

Living with the Thai with a much larger population and higher level of socio-economic development, the Xinh-mun gradually lost many of their social and cultural traits and became dependant on Thai landlords, who were considered representatives of the central feudal government. Forests, rivers and their products all belonged to Thai landlords to whom Xinh-mun people must give part of whichever specialty products they got. The quantity to be given was specified in rules set by Thai landlords.

The Xinh-mun lived in villages which, however, were under muong (residential unit of the Thai). Xinh-mun villagers had to work for Thai landlords, doing farm work and housework for them and building roads and irrigation works for Thai muong. Each Xinh-mun village had a head who took charge of affairs assigned by Thai landlords. The Xinh-mun language was thus no longer used in many areas and only a small number of native words was used in the Xinh-mun’s daily life. Xinh-mun houses and costumes were also largely influenced by Thai culture.

The 1945 Revolution liberated the Xinh-mun from the Thai lords’ oppression, giving them a chance to promote and preserve their own culture and live in peace with the Thai and other ethnic minority groups.

The Xinh-mun live on upland cultivation combined with exploitation of forest products and fishing. They also do some handicrafts such as knitting and weaving. Xinh-mun people used to live on nomadic farming, but began settling in valleys and growing wet rice in 1954 when North Vietnam was liberated.

Due to their low economic level and nomadic life, the Xinh-mun’s trade barely developed. They mostly bartered knitted products and forest products for salt and clothing. Their trade has now much improved. In many places, the Xinh-mun have formed commodity corn areas for sale to Viet traders.

A Xinh-mun house is divided into two parts widthwise: tum plang (main part) and tum xia (sub-part). Tum plang is the first part from the left (to the direction of the house or where the main stairway leads). This is where to worship family spirits (i.e., ancestors) and receive guests. Tum plang, which is also the sleeping place for men, has a stove in the middle for warming and boiling water rather than for cooking. Tum xia, which is the place of women, is used for cooking and eating.

A Xinh-mun house is also divided into two parts lengthwise. The upper part facing a stream, water rice field or main road is for worshiping family spirits and for sleeping. The lower part is for cooking and living.

Both gables of a house have open-air additional floors. The floor on the side of the main stairway (tum plang side) is the place for men to drink and do other works. It is also the place for sun-drying stuff. The floor on the tum xia side is for women.

Most taboos in a house are for women who are not allowed to enter tum plang, sit with their backs toward tum plang when having meals, and pass tum plang to tum xia. Both men and women are not supposed to bring branches of fresh leaves, green vegetables and raw meat onto tum plang stairways and floor and especially into tum plang.

The Xinh-mun live in patriarchal families which attach great importance to worshiping ancestors called family spirits. Ancestors are within five generations but most Xinh-mun people only worship their dead parents. The altar is often placed on the floor next to the pillar of tum plang on around one square meter at the house front. The altar is separated from other parts by a wattle about 2m wide and 1.5m high. All sons set up an altar to worship their parents who are believed to still visit their sons’ houses after their death. Even a daughter may set up an altar to worship her parents if her husband learns from a fortune-teller that her parents need offerings. She will then set up by herself an altar called huon xo. The food offered on huon xo must be cooked outside the house and a son-in-law is not supposed to put the offerings onto huon xo. An adopted son in a family may also set up an altar to worship his natural parents.

The Xinh-mun’s only residential unit is village which is built on relatively flat areas on a range of hills or low mountains near streams. A Xinh-mun village, which is usually named after a tree, stream or field in Thai language, has two or three family lines living together. Houses in a Xinh-mun village are built in line, facing a stream, field or road and having a mountain in their backs. Houses may be adjacent to one another by their sides or backs, but must not face one another because such arrangement is believed to make members of both families get sick or face misfortunes.

Community spirit is high among Xinh-mun people who are willing to assist one another on such occasions as wedding, funeral, house building or harvesting.

Xinh-mun villagers live in mutual affection and respect village elderly and sorcerers for their knowledge and experience.

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