Cultural characteristics: The Bahnar are believed to have migrated long ago to The Central Highlands from the coast. They are animists and worship Trees such as the banyan and ficus. The Bahnar keep their own traditional Calendar, which calls for 10 months of cultivation, with the remaining two months set aside for social and personal duties, such as marriage, weaving, ceremonies and festivals. Traditionally when babies reached one month of age, a ceremony was held in which their lobes were pierced to make them a member of the village. Those who died without such holes were believed to be taken to a land of monkeys by a black-eared goddess called Dudyai. The Bahnar are skilled woodcarvers and wear similar dress to the Jarai.
Cultural characteristics: The Dzao (or Zao/Dao) are one of the largest and most colorful of Vietnam's ethnic groups and live in the northwestern provinces near China and Laos. The Dzao practice ancestor worship of spirits or 'Ban Ho' (no relation to Uncle Ho) and hold elaborate rituals with sacrifices of pigs and chickens. The Dzao's close proximity to China explains the common use of traditional medicine and the similarity of the Nom Dao script to Chinese characters. The Dzao are famous for their elaborate dress. Women's clothing typically features intricate weaving and silver-coloured beads and coins - the wealth of a woman is said to be in the weight of coins she carries. Their long flowing hair, shaved above the forehead, is tied up into a large red or embroidered turban. A curious blend of skinhead and Sikh.
Cultural characteristics: The polytheistic Ede live communally in beamless boat-shaped longhouses on stilts. About one-third of these homes, which often accommodate large extended families, are reserved for communal use, with the rest partitioned into smaller sections to give some privacy to married couples. Speaking of which, like the Jarai, the Ede girls must propose to the men and after marriage the couple resides with the wife's family and bears the mother's name. Inheritance is also the preserve of women, in particular the youngest daughter of the family. Ede women generally wear colourfully embroidered vests with copper and silver jewellery.
Cultural characteristics: Since migrating from China in the 19th century, the H'mong have grown to become one of the largest ethnic groups in Vietnam. Numbering around half a million, they are spread across the far north, but most visitors will run into them in Sapa or Bac Ha . The H'mong are animist, and worship spirits. The H'mong live at high altitudes and cultivate dry rice and medicinal plants (including opium), and raise animals. There are several groups within the H'mong, including Black, White, Red, Green and Flower, each of which has its own subtle dress code. One of the most recognisable are the Black H'mong, who wear indigo-dyed linen clothing, with women typically wearing skirts, aprons, retro leggings and cylindrical hats. The Flower H'mong women wear extrovert outfits, with bright rainbow banding and 70s-style sequins from head to toe. Many H'mong women wear large silver necklaces, earrings and clusters of silver bracelets. The H'mong are also found in neighbouring Laos and Thailand and many have fled to Western countries as refugees. Their cultivation of opium has made them the target of much government suspicion over the years.
Cultural characteristics: The Jarai are the most populous minority in the central highlands, many living around Pleiku , as well as northeast Cambodia and southern Laos. Villages are often named for a nearby river, stream or tribal chief, and a nha-rong (communal house) is usually found in the centre. Jarai women typically propose marriage to men through a matchmaker, who delivers the prospective groom a copper bracelet. Animistic beliefs and rituals still abound, and the Jarai pay respect to their ancestors and nature through a host or yang (genie). Popular spirits include the King of Fire (Po Teo Pui) and the King of Water (Po TeoLa) who are summoned to bring forth the rain. The Jarai construct elaborate cemeteries for their dead, which include carved effigies of the deceased, these totems can be found in the forests around villages, but sadly many are being snapped up by culturally insensitive collectors. Perhaps more than any of Vietnam's other hill tribes, the Jarai are renowned for their indigenous musical instruments, from bronze gongs to bamboo tubes, which act as wind flutes and percussion. Jarai women typically wear sleeveless indigo blouses and long skirts.
Cultural characteristics: Mainly concentrated in Hoa Binh province, the male-dominated Muong live in small stilt-house hamlets Though their origins lie close to the ethnic-Vietnamese, the Muong have a culture similar to the Thai. They are known for producing folk literature, poems and songs, much of which have been translated into Vietnamese. Musical instruments such as the gong, drums, pan pipes, flutes and two-stringed violin are popular Muong women wear long skirts and short blouses, while the men traditionally wear indigo tops and trousers.
Cultural characteristics: The Nung inhabit the far northeastern provinces near the Chinese border. Concentrated into small villages, Nung homes are typically divided into two areas, one to serve as living quarters and the other for work and worship.
From ardent ancestral worship to traditional festivities, the Nung are spiritually and socially similar to the Tay people. Nung brides tradition ally command high dowries from their prospective grooms and tradition dictates inheritance from father to son, which is a sure sign of Chinese influence. Most Nung villages still have medicine men who are called upon to help get rid of evil spirits and cure the ill. The Nung are also known for their handicrafts, such as bamboo furniture, basketry, silverwork and paper making. The Nung primarily wear black and indigo clothing, and the women have elaborate headdresses.
Cultural characteristics: Native to the central highlands, the Sedang extend as far west as Cambodia. Like many of their neighbours, the Sedang have been adversely affected by centuries of war and outside invasion and may have been raided by both the Cham and the Khmer to become slaves. They do not carry family names, and there is said to be complete equality between the sexes. The children of one's siblings are also given the same treatment as one's own, creating a strong fraternal tradition. The Sedang practise unique customs, such as grave abandonment (unlike the other hill-tribe groups who return to graves annually for ceremonies), sharing of property with the deceased and giving birth at the forest's edge. Sedang women traditionally wear long skirts and a sarong-like top wrap.
TREAD LIGHTLY IN THE HILLS
For the world's indigenous people, tourism is both a blessing and a curse. Studies show indigenous cultures are a major drawcard for travellers and attract substantial revenue. However, little of it directly benefits these minority groups, who are often among their country's poorest and most disadvantaged. Hill-tribe communities in Vietnam aren't usually involved in initiating tourist activities, often they aren't the major economic beneficiaries from these activities, are powerless to stop the tide and have little say in its development. Tourism can bring many benefits to highland communities. These include cross-cultural understanding; improved infrastructure, such as roads; cheaper market goods; and tourist dollars supporting handicraft Industries and providing employment opportunities. However, there are also negative side-effects. Tourism creates or contributes to overtaxing of natural resources; increased titter and pollutants; dependency on tourist dollars; proliferation of drug use and prostitution; and erosion of local values and practices. If you travel to these regions, the good news is that you can make a positive contribution and ensure that the benefits of your stay outweigh the costs.
Be polite and respectful.
Do not urinate or defecate near villagers' households; bury faeces.
Do not take drugs - young children tend to imitate tourists' behaviour.
Do not engage in sexual relationships with local people, including prostitutes.
Try to learn something about the community's culture and language and teach something good about your
Do not give children sweets or money; it encourages begging and paves the way for prostitution for 'gifts' and money. Sweets also contribute to tooth decay. Do not give clothes - communities are self-sufficient.
Cultural characteristics: The Tay are the largest group among the hill tribes and live at low elevations and in valleys between Hanoi and the Chinese border. They traditionally live in wooden stilt houses, although a long history of interaction with the Vietnamese has seen a gradual shift to brick structures. They adhere closely to Vietnamese beliefs in Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, but also worship genies and local spirits. Since they developed their own script in the 16th century, Tay literature and arts have become famous throughout Vietnam. Tay people wear distinctive indigo-blue and black clothes. They often wear head wraps of the same colours and can sometimes be seen carrying machete-like farming tools in belt sheaths. Don't give medicines - it erodes traditional healing practices and the medicine may not be correctly administered. Individual gifts create jealousy and create expectations, instead make donations to the local school, medical centre or community fund. No matter how poor they are, villagers are extremely hospitable; however, feeding a guest can result in food shortages. If you accept an invitation to share a meal, be sure to bring a generous contribution. Usually it is possible to chip in with a chicken or something simitar in a remote village. However, most guides will be able to offer help on what is appropriate
Haggle politely and always pay the agreed (and fair) price for goods and services. Do not ask to buy a villager's personal household items or the jewellery or clothes they are wearing. Don't buy village treasures, such as altar pieces or totems.
Do not photograph without first asking permission - this includes children. Some hill tribes (particularly the Dzao people) believe the camera will capture their spirit. Don't photographaltars. If you take a picture, do it quickly and avoid using a flash. It is polite to send copies (ifpossible) - if you promise to do so, keep your word.
Travel in small, less disruptive groups. Stay, eat and travel with local businesses. Try to book tours with responsible tourism outlets who employ hill-tribe people or contribute to community welfare. Note. www.hilltribe.org is aimed at visiting the hill tribes of northern Thailand, but it's still a useful resource on how to behave yourself in hill-tribe villages.
Cultural characteristics: Like the Tay. the Thai originated in southern China before settling along the fertile riverbeds of the northwest from Hoa Binh to Muong Lay. Villagers typically consist of 40 or 50 thatched houses built on bamboo stilts. The Thai minority are usually categorised by colour, including the Red, Black and White Thai. Black Thai women wear vibrantly coloured blouses and headgear, while the White Thai tend to dress in contemporary clothing. Theories vary on the relationship with the Thais of Thailand, as they do when it comes to the many colour groupings. Some suggest it corresponds to colours on the women's skirts, while others believe it comes from the nearby Red and Black Rivers. The Thai, using a script developed in the 5th century, have produced literature ranging from poetry and love songs to folk tales. Travellers staying overnight in Mai Chau can usually catch a performance of the Thai's renowned music and dance. To learn more: www.LuxuryPrivateTour.com