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Official Gazette

Thursday, December 1, 2022

The “Hoa” ethnic minority and its customary laws

Updated: 10:13’ - 25/02/2011

To Dong Hai



The “Hoa” is the fourth largest ethnic minority group in Vietnam with a population of more than 900,000 (according to the 1980 census figure). They moved from different regions of China at different periods of time and have resided in different localities of Vietnam under different ethnic names and with more or less different customs and practices. For instance, the “Ngai” came from Qangtung, China, and have settled down in a number of areas of Quang Ninh, Bac Giang, Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Lang Son, Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang… provinces; the “Sin Lau” from Qangxi have resided in Quang Ninh province; the “Liem Chau”, from Qangtung, have now lived in Quang Ninh; the “Thong Nham” who moved to Vietnam during the Tang period, the “Minh Huong” came during the Ming dynasty…

At present, the Hoa have lived concentratedly in northern border provinces as well as Quang Ninh, Hai Phong and Ha Noi, and in southern provinces, including Dong Nai, Minh Hai, Kien Giang, Can Tho, Soc Trang, Ho Chi Minh City…

Wet rice cultivation has long been practised by the Hoa with the development of intensive farming and high-yield strains. In some northern provinces, they have planted cinnamon and amonium longiligulare, which yield products of high export value and help combat soil erosion, landslide and de-humidity. Besides salt-making and fishing, pottery has long been a traditional craft of Hoa people with wellknown products from Mong Cai.

People of this ethnic group have often built their houses at mountain or hill feet, alluvial plains, vast and flat plains, which are near water sources and important communication axes. The administrative unit is “lang” (village) which accomodates from 15 or 20 to 100 or 200 households each. Families of the same lineage have built their houses close together. There formerly existed in the Hoa community big families with hundreds of people from four to five generations living under the same roof. However, the small-sized patriarchal families are common, where the fathers or husbands are masters with real authority and power to decide every family affairs, big and small. Under the Hoa people’s customary laws, the eldest sons in families were given larger shares of family property while girls were not given any, not allowed to go to school and participate in social activities. Even according to the Hoa’s traditional concepts, unmarried women, when passing away, were not allowed to see their ancestors and to be worshipped in the houses but left at the door to keep an eye on the houses.

Marriages between men and women within the Hoa ethnos are very common, which are, however, more or less commercial with too much inclination to property. Young men and women were not free to love and to marry; their marriages were fixed and arranged by parents. Monogamy has been advocated and divorce is rarely seen. Marriages between people of the same lineage, cousins, and even lerirat and sororat were not allowed under the Hoa customary laws. For the wedding ceremony, traditional customs and practices such as the newly-weds’ first visit to the bride’s family on the weeding day’s morrow, matrilocat,… have been maintained. Uncles (younger brothers of the brides’ mothers) have played a very important role, often presiding over the wedding ceremonies.

Ancestral worship and animism are the basic and traditional belief of the Hoa people. Often seen in hamlets and houses are shrines to worship mountain, river and forest devines, the tutelary genies or persons with great merits in reclaiming new lands, defeating enemies and eliminating the wicked. Having thought that “death” means the departure from the living’s world for the dead’s world which is structured similarly to the living world, the Hoa people have often buried together with dead persons things of daily use. For them, the funeral must follow a strict order and procedures with the death announcement first, then the shrouding, road paving (to help the dead persons free themselves from the living’s world), the burial, the soul-seeing-off ceremony… The Hoa people believe that the souls of persons who die “clean” (namely who had a clean life while living) may be soon reincarnated into to-be-born babies after seeing the ancestors. If the husband dies first, his wife shall have to cut a carrying pole into two, burying one half together with her husband’s corpse, and the other half shall be buried together with her when she dies. To the Hoa people’s thinking, such shall be things for the couple to recognize each other in the dead’s world.

The private property of families and individuals have been fully respected by the Hoa customary laws which forbid and duly punish acts of thievery and robbery. Individuals’ property are inherited by sons, not by the mothers, wives and daughters. Land is considered the private property which can be sold, assigned or inherited by people.

Adultery and incest are considered acts of serious violations of the customary laws and severely dealt with. Marrying concubine is rarely seen though men have great powers as family masters.

The Hoa people have a good tradition of mutual assistance and unity. It is, therefore, the Hoa community in Vietnam is the one that has strongly developed. Fine traditions and practices have been preserved, contributing to the consolidation and development of the community. Therefore, the healthy and progressive traditions and practices of the Hoa people should be maintained, preserved and further developed while the backward conventions established on the basis of feudal, Confucian and Taoist ideologies formulated in a society with deep class disintegration should be minimized. That is the correct way to contribute to the development of the Hoa community among the great family of Vietnamese nationalities, a sustainable develop-ment for the purpose of building a civilized and modern society in line with the Party’s guidelines and the State’s policies.-


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