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.
I started running my textile focussed tours back in 2007. Over the years I've seen some of the most gorgeous textiles made by the most gorgeous women. This blog is a reflection on some of these