There are about 500,000 Dao people living in Vietnam. Though the origin of the Red Dao in northern Vietnam is uncertain, anthropologists believe that they arrived from China since 13th century. Red Dao people speak H’mong - Dao language, while their writing is based on adjusted Chinese characters to accommodate their own spelling.
A holy man called Ban Vuong, the earliest ancestor of the Dao people, is worshipped together with ancestors of their family. Their religion also has elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism like the Vietnamese ethnic.
Red Dao women wear some of the most colorful and diverse costumes of all ethnic groups. They wear a long blouse over trousers, their clothes are colorfully embroidered with designs and silver jewelry. They also wear a distinctive red triangular shaped turban decorated with silver coins, and many red tassels. Red Dao men typically wear a short shirt with long trousers, and a head-scarf. Both men and women have a square piece of fabric on the back of their shirts, representing that they are children of God. Many Red Dao women shave their forehead and eyebrows, which is traditionally regarded as beauty.
Though there are many changes in recent years, Dao people still select partners for their sons. At about fourteen or fifteen years old, the father will take his son to a girl who he thinks may fit (healthy and know all house works), to have a look at her. Before their wedding, the couple need an “yes” from a shaman, who organize a ritual using a rooster’s legs and their horoscopes to judge their compatibility.
The value of a Dao girl is shown by how many chickens, pigs, jars of rice wine and silver coins the boy’s family brings to her family at their wedding day. If a boy’s family can’t afford the dowry, he has to live in his bride’s house until he can – which causes him great shame. At their wedding, the groom carries the bride on his back home, here the groom must step over a blessed pair of scissors to cross the threshold into her husband’s house.
The Dao women usually give birth at home with their mother and sisters’ help, the new born is given a bath with hot water and their traditional medicine herbs. They often hang a branch of green tree or banana flowers in front of the door to prevent evil spirits from harming the baby.
When looking for a new house, Dao people digs a hole and fill with rice grains that represent people, cows, buffalos and money. In the morning next day, the family check the hole to see if the rice remains – if not, the house will be built elsewhere.
When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children have to invite a man called “thay tao” to supervise the rituals and find the right piece of land to dig a grave. The deceased is wrapped in a mat, placed in a coffin inside their house, and carried to a grave built of stones.
The funeral of the Dao people lasts three days, and usually coincides with initiation ceremony. The first day’s ritual is to liberate the spirit of the deceased, the second day is a day to worship the deceased at home, and the third day is the boy’s initiation rite. The boy has to sit on a throne at the highest place in the village, and falls into hammocks hanging below him. It represents that he is falling down from the sky to be born on earth, or meaning that he is a direct descendant of God.
You can see the Red Dao people with their amazing costumes in their villages on your trek to Ban Lech, Nam Toong and Supan villages.