The Red Dao people originated from China and migrated to Vietnam starting around the 12th or 13th century and continuing until the early 20th century. The majority migrated into Vietnam during the Minh dynasty, due to drought, failed crops and the pressures of Feudalism in China.
The Dao consider themselves to be the descendants of Ban Vuong or Ban Ho, a legendary character of the Dao people.
Overtime, the Dao people in China were divided into small groups and they migrated to different places, with some of them coming to Vietnam. During the migration, the different groups incorporated some cultural practices of other nations, creating new, diverse Dao cultures. However, the different groups still maintain a common Dao identity, as they have the same origins and continue to share a common language.
Red Dao people mainly live in Cao Bang, Lang Son, Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang and Lao Cai. Nowadays, Ta Phin village has more than 700 Red Dao people.
The spoken language belongs to the H’mong – Dao language family. The H’mong writing was Romanized in 1961 but is not widely used today.
Many places are reserved for worshipping in a Hmong house – there’s a place for ancestors, for the house spirit, for the kitchen spirit, even the door spirit. There are different rituals that forbid people to walk into the Hmong house or their villages. For example, a green tree branch on the front door indicates that entrance is forbidden.
The Black H’mong women are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head and wear a blue turban. The men wear long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small hat. Today some H’mong wear Viet or western clothes.
H’mong women are respected in their community as being equal with H’mong men. Husbands and wives are very affectionate and do many of their tasks together like going to the market, working on the field and visiting relatives. In this way, they help each other to develop a strong community life.
Like the other minorities, the Black H’mong have lots of different festivals during the year. They ensure that there is always time for community activities, which play an important role in their life. One of the most important festivals is the New Year, which they celebrate for an entire month. It happens about one month earlier than Vietnamese Tet. During this time, boys play flutes and girls play an instrument made from two leaves. They all spend time together playing traditional games.
For the Black H’mong it is important that a girl knows how to embroider and work well in the field. These skills are more important than her beauty. Boys and girls are allowed to get to know each other before they get married. They go to the love market where they eat and sing songs together. After this time, the boy can propose marriage and if the girl agrees, she goes to live in his house. She is put in a small room and visited by the boy’s mother and sisters who give her food to persuade her to accept the marriage.
The boy must give the bride’s family silver coins, pigs, chicken, and rice wine for the wedding ceremony. The bride has some time to decide if she accepts the marriage – even after living with her husband for a few days, she can choose to break their agreement. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he lives in her house until he is able to marry her.
When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children fire a gun to let everyone in the area know. People in the village come to the deceased’s house with anything they have – chicken, rice, a small pig, or rice wine – to help the family. Everybody sings and eats until the deceased is wrapped in a mat and carried to a grave by one group, while a coffin, which has been kept in a cave somewhere near the grave, is carried by another. Both groups have to run very fast to meet at the grave to make the deceased forget the way home. If the deceased’s family is not able to supervise the funeral rituals, they can wait for a few years before organizing a special one called ma kho. They invite people in the village to a place by the grave for the funeral for a celebration, at which they sing and dance.