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:
TROUSERS: The trousers of the Dao women are perhaps one of the most recognisable costumes of all the ethnic groups as the front bottom sections of them are always elaborately embroidered.
JACKET: This ankle length jacket is opened at the front with splits to the waist on each side. Made always of a dark indigo coloured fabric, the front lapels and cuffs of the jacket are embroidered along with a rectangle on the upper back and an elaborate panel on the lower back (called the Luy Dua). (In some Dao clans the jacket is teamed with brightly coloured ruffles).
BELT: Made from dark indigo fabric the plain belt (sometimes with tassels on the end) is worn around the hips and is tied at the front to keep the jacket closed.
BIB: This piece is worn under the jacket and is usually decorated with silver buttons and in some clans is heavily embroidered.
HEADDRESS: The headdress is an important feature of Dao woman's identity. There is a great number of different types of headdresses across the different Dao clans. One of the most stunning is the bright red headdress of the Red Dao which may have 20-25 layers of rectangular red cloth often decorated with tassles and beads which are folded, tucked and tied to make a rounded mound on the top of the head.
There’s also the enormous black turban of the Black Dao found in the Sinho area or the striking Black Dao of the Binh Lu area where the women cover their hair (which is tied up in a loose bun) with a thick black corded headdress which is then topped with a large silver frame.
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'.