Traditional rituals of the Lo Lo
The Lo Lo, one of six Tibet-Burman language ethnic minority groups, is also called O Man, Lu Loc Man, La La, Qua La, Di Nhan, Di Gia, Mun Chi and Mun Di, or collectively Di people.

Associate Prof. Dr. BUI XUAN DINH


The Lo Lo, one of six Tibet-Burman language ethnic minority groups, is also called O Man, Lu Loc Man, La La, Qua La, Di Nhan, Di Gia, Mun Chi and Mun Di, or collectively Di people.

The Lo Lo is also called Di because their origin was from Di people in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces of China. The Lo Lo was believed to migrate to Vietnam in 1508 under the reign of King Le Uy Muc. They first lived in former Thuy Vi district (now in Lao Cai province) and later moved to different areas in the northern part of the country. They were the first inhabitants of present Dong Van district, Ha Giang northern province. Other ethnic minority groups such as the H’mong, Dao, Nung, Giay, Co Lao and Pu Peo living in this district all worship Lo Lo ancestors to pay homage to the first reclaimers of the region. From Dong Van, a segment of the Lo Lo moved to Bao Lam and Bao Lac districts in Cao Bang northern province even before the Tay. Many geographical names in Bao Lam and Bao Lac are associated with the Lo Lo. The Lo Lo also settled in Meo Vac district in Ha Giang northern province.

With a population of over 3,300, the Lo Lo now live mostly in Dong Van and Meo Vac districts of Ha Giang province and Bao Lam and Bao Lac districts in Cao Bang province.

Living on high mountainous areas, the Lo Lo live on upland cultivation of sticky rice, rice, maize, cassava, potatoes, beans, vegetables and melons. In extremely high areas in Dong Van and Meo Vac, they make use of rocky mountain slopes to reclaim them into farm land. Lo Lo people raise horses, buffaloes, cows, goats, pigs and poultry, mostly by grazing. They also live on hunting and exploitation of forest products and do some handicrafts such as weaving, knitting, carpentry and tile making.

The Lo Lo’s residential unit is chai which means village. The name of a chai is usually composed of the prefix Lo Lo, followed by chai and then the name of a specific place, for instance Lo Lo Chai Lung Cu, i.e., village of the Lo Lo in Lung Cu. Those living near the Tay name their villages after geographical names of the Tay.

Lo Lo villages are located on mountain or hill sides near streams or in valleys. The residential area of a Lo Lo village is not large since houses are located close to one another. Houses all face the valley with mountains in their back. Each village has a cultivation area and forest for exploitation of natural resources. Fields are private property even if they are not in use while forests, mountains and streams are public property which villagers may exploit but must protect. Every village has rules on exploitation of land and products of forests, especially watershed forests, protection of water sources and production, security, fire prevention and rules against adultery. Each village possesses a forest upstream called holy forest where the village shrine is built under the highest and biggest tree for worshiping deities. The village shrine may also be built in front of the village. A villager is assigned to take care of the shrine and make offerings to the deities annually. Every late February or March, all villagers work together to renovate the shrine.

The Lo Lo have three types of house: earthen house, stilt house and semi-stilt house, of which stilt house is the most traditional despite its simple structure. Only Lo Lo people in Ha Giang live in earthen houses which have thick and firm earthen walls for security and coldness prevention. The part having the main entrance door to which the main stairway leads is where the family ancestors are worshiped, the inner part of the house linked with the sub-stairway is for women.

The Lo Lo’s ritual for moving in a new house is different from one region to another. In Ha Giang, a host must tie a piece of red cloth and some rice (or a piece of maize) to the roof pillar and apply the blood of a young rooster on it, while in Cao Bang a host must keep the family’s cooking fire constantly on for nine days and bring water into a new house.

In Lo Lo society, only village heads and heads of big families have powers and thus are wealthier while others are mostly poor.

Lo Lo people live in small patriarchal families which favor sons because they are the ones who will take care old parents and worship them when they die. In a Lo Lo family, grandparents and parents are respected, but all members live in love and harmony. Rules on relations between fathers- or brothers-in-law and daughters- or sisters-in-law are as strict as those of other ethnic minority groups in the region.

Lo Lo people have a custom to celebrate birthdays at the ages of 13, 25 and 37 to mark the maturity of a child, a youngster and a middle-age person. At the ages of 59, 61 and 73, a person will have his/her birthday celebrated by his/her children as at these ages, a person is believed to likely face misfortunes.

Family names of the Lo Lo include Lang, Co, Cho, Ly, Hoang and Chu each of which is distinguished by its own worship and funeral rituals. Each family line comprises families of five generations (whose family members are not allowed to marry each other) usually living in a hamlet. Each line has its own cemetery and a pair of bronze drums (comprising a male and a female drum) which is considered a treasure of the family line. A family line which has three or more pairs of bronze drums is considered a big one and has a high position in the village. Family line members may use the bronze drum pair when they have a funeral. Each family line has a head (thau chu) who is conversant with traditional customs and worship rules and responsible for keeping the family’s bronze drum pair, worshiping ancestors of the line and guiding member families in observing customary laws and rituals related to weddings and funerals, house building, and settling conflicts within the family line and between family members and outsiders.

A Lo Lo funeral is held with various formalities one of which is the delivery of assets and a buffalo to the dead: Two bronze drums are placed on a temporarily built floor with a drummer standing in the middle. Children and grandchildren of the dead dance to drum beats. The oldest son in a colorful shirt and a turban with three peacock feathers leads the dancers who dance in the following line: younger sons are followed by daughters of whom the oldest daughter wears a shirt covering her head and carries a cloth bag on one shoulder and a piece of wood wrapped in colorful cloths on the other shoulder. The daughters are followed by daughters-in-laws, sons-in-law and grandchildren. While dancers are performing, a son of the uncle of the dead erects two pillars for tying the sacrificial buffalo. After the dancers complete three rounds of dancing, a son-in-law of the dead beats on the head of the sacrifice or stick it to death. The oldest son beats the sacrifice with a green tree branch to drive away evil ghosts and invite the soul of his father/mother to receive the sacrifice.

Eight nights (for a woman) or nine nights (for a man) after the burial of the dead, the family holds a drum-beating and dancing ceremony to remember the dead where, however, only relatives and villagers of the dead perform the dance while the dead’s children and grandchildren watch. Several months later, children offer rice to their dead father/mother on his/her grave. Later, another funeral ritual for the dead is held, but in a cheerful rather than mournful spirit because the soul of the dead is believed to have reached supposed destinations according to the Lo Lo’s customs and belief: the soul of the dead stays at the family altar while his/her remaining parts return to the worlds of heaven and hell and become kitchen ghosts. Two or three years later, the second burial for the dead is made.

The Lo Lo believe Father heaven and Mother earth give birth to and decide the fate of men whose souls thus must return to the ancestors, heaven and earth. The bronze drum symbolizes the space both in shape and sound. That’s why, rituals for the dead must have the sound of bronze drum, but only for old people. Decorative patterns on the bronze drum reflect the Lo Lo’s views on the space. The drummer in a funeral must be a single man because it is believed that the wife of a married drummer cannot have children.

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