To Dong Hai
With a population of around 96,000, the San Diu ethnic minority group has resided largely in provinces of Quang Ninh, Bac Giang, Bac Kan, Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang and Thanh Hoa. Under different ethnic names such as "San Deo" called by people of this group, "Son Dao" by the Viet majority or "Man" by neighboring groups, the San Diu people live in hamlets or clusters intermingledly with the people of Tay, Nung or Viet.
According to historical documents and books, San Diu ethnos once stayed in southern China before migrating to and settling down in Vietnam approximately 300 years ago. According to an hypothesis, San Diu migrated to Vietnam by sea, having settled down in Quang Ninh province first before spreading to Bac Giang, Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, where they have grouped together in wards of half-mountain and half-plain communes and districts.
Wet rice farming has long been practiced by San Diu while milpa cropping on hill sides, either newly reclaimed, restored or improved, still play important part in their economic life. People of this ethnic group have known how to use fertilizers for long now, thus helping them to develop intensive farming and crop overlapping, raise the productivity of food crop and meet the people's demand. Such sideline as exploitation of forest products including timber and bamboo, salt-making and fishing, sericulture, fabric weaving, carpentry, smithery, brick-making... have strongly developed.
The San Diu have many big family lines such as Ly, Tran, Truong, Ninh, Tu, Ta, Le Diep. Formerly, people of the same descent lived in the same area before they spread and live in different areas as now. To tell people from different branches of a lineage one could see at their middle names which indicate their respective ranks, their blood ties. Relying on this, the hamlet venerable can realize how close in blood a couple are before deciding their marriage. Inter-lineage marriages are strictly forbidden except where people are five generations apart.
The San Diu customary law advo-cates monogamy except in cases where the lawful wife has no son, her husband can marry a concubine though this rarely happens. After his wife's dicease, a widower is entitled to inherit his in-laws' estates and stay single to raise his children, and need not to bear his wife's family name. But he has to worship his wife's ancestors beside his own.
San Diu weddings are organized often through complicated formalities opened with a ceremony called "khai hoa tuu" (flowering alcohol). Alcohol used as offering to worship the ancestors is mixed with yolk of chicken eggs, then later offered to members of the bride's and bridegroom's families in a toast to the happiness, longevity and prosperity of the newly weds.
If after their marriage for a long period of time a couple still have no children, a "re-marriage" ceremony is organized as follows: The husband "expells" his wife back to her parents, then again sends a match-maker there asking for her hand, a wedding is organized on a smaller scale. People of this ethnic group consider this marrying a new wife who may give birth to children. Seen among the San Diu community are many complicated customs and prac-tices. For instance, a sickly child often has his/her full name changed or entrusted into a big rock in an out-of-the-way area or to a highly capable sorcerer in a hope to win support from deities for good health. Such a child is considered the adopted child of the sorcerer.
The "Dong Chi" festival, which falls on the 14th of the seventh moon, is considered a good chance for re-marri-age while "Doan Ngo" festival, which fall on the 5th of the fifth moon, is considered a good day for finding medicinal herbs to cure illnesses.
In their daily life, the San Diu have many taboos which must be observed by all. For instance, a family must not have two new members in a year. If a child is born, there must not be any wedding in that year to have the bride as a new member of the family. If the bride has become the new member of the family before a child is born, the pregnant woman must give birth to her child outside her house.
The kitchen is considered the residence of "the kitchen ghost", where no blanket, mosquito-net and clothings are sun-dried. Clothings are not allowed to be put on firewood and the cooking place must not be left dirty so as not to offend the kitchen ghost.
Daughters-in-law must avoid meeting their fathers and elder brothers-in-law in order to ward off possible incest. Women are thought little of, being not allowed to sit in front of the family altars and doors and to have meals together with men in the family and to inherit property. Incest and out-of-wedlock pregnancy are severely punished by the customary law. The sinners, after paying fines to the hamlet and worshipping deities, shall be expelled from the hamlet.
Thieves, burglars and robbers are also severely punished, having to return things they got from others to pay fines and being expelled from hamlets.
Established on the basis of a fairly well organized community with deeply rooted customs and practices, the San Diu customary law has helped promote social order, stability and development. However, under the current social development situation, it has revealed its limitations such as the strong discrimination against women, numerous taboos based on superstition that have prevented people from bringing into full play their capabilities.
Inheriting fine customs and practices of San Diu while eliminating their negative elements is an urgent task that must be done now in order to build a happy, civilized, progressive and prosperous life in areas inhabited by San Diu people.-