From clan to clan and village to village the style and colour of Vietnams ethnic minority groups showcase a vibrant and fascinating culture of textile traditions. One of the largest and most diverse of these groups is that of the Hmong. From the sedate indigo garb of the Black Hmong of Sapa to the explosive colour of the Flower Hmong around Lao Cai each has adopted a unique costume and identity. Here are just some of the beautiful Hmong I've encountered on my travels through Northern Vietnam.
if you are in Sapa around the New Year you can see the Black Hmong from around the district celebrate the Spring Festival - where thousands gather in their full traditional costume for a day of traditional games and rituals. Whilst most women wear their tradtional clothing all the time - this festival is an opportunity to also see the men and boys all decked out.
One of the largest and most diverse of the ethnic minority groups of Vietnam is the Dao (pronounced “Zao”) who settled in the northern border region of Vietnam after leaving China in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Like many of the ethnic minority group clans the different Dao clans are often named after the style and colour of their clothing, and even today its not uncommon to see Dao women in full traditional clothing as they go about their day. Dao women's outfits are always made of dark indigo trousers and jackets but the degree of decoration and their different headwear and hairstyles is how you can tell the difference between the clans. Here is a collection of photos taken of some of the beautiful Dao women I've met on my travels.
This beautiful woman is part of the Black Dao clan that live in the area west of Sapa. Unlike their Dao neighbours in Sapa they do not decorate their clothing with embroidery - but always wear a colourful bib of bright pink ribbons, a belt with pink tassels and a distinctive coiled headdress with a silver ornament on top. When she goes to market she usually covers the headdress in a black scarf.
Today many of the women only wear their turbans in the winter time - but its not uncommon to see the older women wearing them at all times of the year.
I had seen these beautiful Black Dao women at a number of markets - I thought they'd just forgot their hats! But it turns out that their clan of Dao pride themselves on their beautiful hairstyles - and treat their hair with pig fat to make it pliable and shiny!
In many ethnic minority cultures across Indochina, embroidery is part of every woman's daily life and through this she perpetuates the identity of her culture, reproducing patterns and symbols which have been developed over generations of women. I love capturing the concentration of these women as you see them stitching away whether they are resting in the fields, on the way to market or sitting chatting with other women or family – embroidery stitches are a way of life.
With the influence of western goods and mobile phones - communication and the way people interact and socialise is gradually changing in the remote areas of North-West Vietnam. However the weekly market always has been and continues to this day to be a gathering place where people come to trade, to socialise and to gossip. Here is just a sample of shots I've captured at these colourful community "meet ups".
I've just returned from a truly inspiring 2 weeks exploring the ethnic minority villages in the North of Vietnam. So thought I just had to share all the wonderful places we travelled to and just some of the 19 different ethnic minority groups we met along the way. Although we just missed out on a record breaking snow fall in beautiful Sapa but after a few foggy days in Sapa and Sinho the weather was kind to us and we travelled from Sinho through to Muong Te and Muong Khong areas where we got to see some amazing scenery and meet lots of warm and inviting local villagers.
Travelling so close to the annual Tet or New Years holidays proved to be great timing as some of the villages were still in party mode and welcomed us into their homes to share a New Years tipple of corn or rice wine and show us their gorgeous traditional textiles and how they lived. In Sapa we fortunate to be to there to celebrate the start of the new year with the ceremonial ploughing of the field. This is a fantastic spectacle as thousands of Black Hmong come together in their New Years best dress - - to play traditional games and party - even the men and boys (who today opt for western style dress) - were decked out in their finest traditional clothes.
After spending a day with my Red Dao friends in Taphin village we headed north west from Sapa and up over the mountain pass before driving down into the valleys around Lai Chau city. We stopped in to meet some extremely hospitable Black Dao - affectionately called the Antenna Dao by our guide. Although their clothing lacks the elaborate embroidery of some of the other Dao groups the Antenna Dao make up for it with their amazing head gear and bibs of bright pink ribbons. We also met some lovely ladies in a small Lu village - who were resplendent in their gorgeous fitted jackets and skirts adorned in patchwork, silver buttons and tapestry weave panels.
Although Sunday is market day in Sinho being there on a Wednesday we were still able to meet some fabulous characters in the markets and do some hard bargaining for some beautiful silk threads with some local Sewing Dao ladies dressed in their large black turbans and elaborately embroidered pants and jackets. There were also a number of White Hmong with their black pointed turbans and colourful jackets and Red Hmong ladies with their distinctive big red hair in the market shopping with us.
Sadly a great number of villages in the Lai Chau valley area have been moved to higher ground as the land is flooded to make way for dams and hydro plants. This has meant that some of the smaller minority groups like the Si La have all but given up on their traditional way of life as they try to make a new life in purpose built villages - however we were still able to meet and spend time with lots of different groups including some Ha Ni and colourful White Hmong families who all welcomed us into their homes.
As we climbed up and down mountain ranges around the Muong Te area we also met quiet a few different Ha Nhi groups. Many of these groups have changed their traditional costumes to be more like the La Hu who used to be the dominant group in the area and now adorn their jackets in beautiful bright blues and pinks and trim their rattan headbands in brightly coloured pinks and orange. We also found a group of the more sedate traditional garb of the Ha Nhi with the most beautiful pink embroidered jackets and had a few laughs with them as they showed us how they spun their cottons while sitting around in the market.
We descended again through the ranges to Muong Khong town for the colourful Sunday market - which although packed with thousands of colourful Black Dao, Pa Di, Tu Di and Flower Hmong we apparently didn't get to see the market in all its glory as a lot of the groups were not at the market that day as they were still celebrating with their New Years provisions so had no need to come to market for their weekly shop. While in the area of Muong Khoung and Bac Ha we also met some beautiful Pha Lu women along with some Nung and Hmong families as they worked the fields getting ready to plant the crops for the new year.
I cant wait for the next trip as we will venture into another new area along the Chinese border where we hope to see even more different groups. Check out the website for details on the tour. http://www.2worldtours.com.au/textile-trails-ethnic-villages-vietnam.html
From village to village the style and colour of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups showcase a vibrant and fascinating culture of textile traditions. One of the largest and diverse of these groups is that of the Dao (pronounced “Zao” and also known as the Yao or Mien) who settled in the northern border region of Vietnam after leaving China in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Dao religion has elements of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism along with the worship of family ancestors and a legendary ancestor called Ban Ho. Legend has it that Ban Ho (a powerful dog of five colours), killed an enemy general and was granted the hand of a princess in marriage, who then gave birth to twelve children – which are the 12 original clans of the Dao.
Today Dao women tend to dress in traditional garb only when visiting the market or going to social gatherings or cultrual celebrations, but tend to wear western t-shirts teamed with traditional trousers and head dress when around the home or working in the fields. Men are tending to opt for western style clothing for all but cultural celebrations.
Like many of the ethnic minority group clans the different Dao clans are often named after the style and colour of their clothing. However from the Black Dao to the Sewing Dao or the Red Dao each article of a woman’s clothing is generally made up of the same elements. (The exception to this is the Coin Dao who are the only clan to wear skirts).The main elements which comprise the dress of the Dao women include:
Another characteristic feature of Dao women in many of the Dao clans is her large forehead – said to be a sign of beauty a woman plucks away or shaves along her hairline and eye bows to make sure no hair shows beneath the headdress.
Like many of the ethnic minority groups in the region a mother makes a new hat for each of her children throughout the stages of their childhood. It is believed that the hats will protect the child from sickness as when the evil spirits look down from above they will think that the child is a flower - and will leave them alone. The caps vary between boys and girls with the Dao boys caps being decorated with silver studs and coins, while the girls wear caps which have embroidery only.
Embroidery is part of every Dao woman's daily life and through this she perpetuates the identity of the Dao culture by reproducing the patterns which have developed over generations of Dao women. Generally a Dao woman is so skilled in her embroidery skills that she only needs to briefly see a pattern and is able to copy it. Girls are to taught to embroider from the age of 8 or 9 and like many other minority groups in Vietnam her skills reflect upon her suitability as a wife - the more skillful you are the better your marriage prospects are!
Marriages are arranged by parents, with the groom's family providing the bride-to-be cloth from which she must make several set of clothes for herself along with a set for her husbang and his family members. In the time leading up to the wedding the bride will be allowed to stay at home and work on her embroidery pieces. On her wedding day she wears all of her new clothes to show everyone her skills. She will also wear a wooden frame called a gong over which red clothes are hung and topped with a very detailed embroidered cloth called a 'pa dao'.