ETHNIC MINORITIES THAT LIVE IN SOUTHERN VIETNAM

ETHNIC MINORITIES THAT LIVE IN SOUTHERN VIETNAM

The Ma is a grouping of about 50,000 slash-and-burn farmers that live in the highlands of southern Vietnam not far from Ho Chi Minh City in Lam Dong, Dong Mai and Thuan Hai provinces. There are four major subgroups: the Ma, the Chop Ro, the Cho To and Cho Sop. Rice is the staple crop. It is grown in the highland and through irrigation on river banks. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

Many ethnic Khmers live on the Mekong Delta area. Many Mon-Khmer language group villages have well-constructed communal or men’s houses. The Coho are a Malay-Polynesian people live in wooden huts.

Cho Ro Ethnic Group

The Cho Ro (also known as the Do Ro, Chau Ro) live in Dong Nai, Binh Thuan, Binh Phuoc and Binh Duong provinces in southern Vietnam. There were 22,567 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. Cho Ro language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group and has close ties to the Ma and the Xtieng languages. Their musical instruments are comprised of a set of seven-pattern gongs, string instruments with a bamboo sound-box, and alternating songs. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Cho Ro lives in houses built on stilts and on the ground. Both patriarchal and matriarchal customs have significance in the family life of the Cho Ro. The Cho Ro believes that all things have souls and spirits. These spirits have an invisible control over humans which forces them to become involved in worshipping rituals and puts special taboos on them. The most important worshipping ritual is the one that pays respect to the souls of the forest and the rice plant. ~

The Cho Ro has adopted the Kinh style of dress. The women wear necklaces and bracelets made of copper, silver, or beads. The main economic activity practiced is slash-and-burn cultivation. In certain places, rice cultivation in submerged fields has been developed. Animal husbandry, hunting, gathering, fishing, basketry, and wood carving are other sideline occupations. ~

Chu Ru Ethnic Group

The Chu Ru(also known as the Cho Ru and Ru) live in Don Duong District in Lam Dong Province and Binh Thuan Province in southern Vietnam. There were 14,978 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Chu Ru developed farming practices very early in the culture. They also developed agriculture, raised cattle, made bamboo and rattan articles, and sculpted pottery. Hunting and gathering have now become sideline occupations in every family. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Chu Ru worship their ancestors and these rituals are carried out in the cemetery. Each family in the Chu Ru clan consists of three to four matrilineal generations, and monogamy is observed in Chu Ru society. Young women choose their husbands and initiate the process of marriage. The husband then lives with his wife's family. ~

The Chu Ru language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian group. They have adopted a sedentary life and have developed a rich oral literature composed of popular songs, folk songs, and proverbs. The "play" (village) contains many family lineages, and other ethnic groups may reside in the same village. "Poplay" (village chiefs) are elected by the inhabitants of the village and a shaman. ~

Co Ho Ethnic Group

The Co Ho (also known as the Xre, Nop, Co lon, Chil, Lat and Tring) live in Di Linh Plateau of Lam Dong Province in southern Vietnam. There were 128,723 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Co Ho cultivates rice through burning the land and submerging their fields. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The young Co Ho women play an active role in marriage. Monogamy is practiced in Co Ho society. After the wedding, the groom comes to live with his wife's family. The Co Ho believes in the existence of many deities including the sun, moon, mountain, river, earth, and rice. ~

Co Ho language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Co Ho possesses an abundant wealth of folklore and culture. The verses of their lyrical poems, called Tampla, sound very romantic. They have many traditional dances to perform at festivals and ceremonies. Their instruments include gongs, dear-skin drums, bamboo flutes, box pan-pipes, lip organs, and six-stringed zithers. ~

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Khmer Ethnic Group

The Khmer (also known as Viet is of Mien origin and Khmer Krom) live mostly in the Mekong Delta area and near the Cambodia border in far southern Vietnam in Soc Trang, Tra Vinh, Can Tho, Kien Giang and An Giang provinces. There were 1,055,174 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year.The Khmer mainly practice Hinduism and Hinayana Buddhism. Before reaching adulthood, young Khmer people often go to pagodas to study and improve their virtues and knowledge. The Khmer have a long tradition in wet rice cultivation. Animal husbandry, weaving, pottery and sugar making from the "Thot Not" Tree are other forms of economic activity.

The Khmer have managed to preserve their own language and writings. They usually live with the Kinh and Hoa in "soc" (villages), and "phum" or "ap" (hamlets). The houses are simply built with thatched or tiled roofs. Major Khmer festivals include "Chon Cho Nam Tho May" (New Year Festival), Buddha's Birthday, "Don Ta" (Forgive the Crimes of the Dead), and "Ooc Om Bok" (Moon Worship).

In August 2005, ABC Radio Australia reported: "A group of 67 ethnic Khmer from Vietnam are attempting to seek asylum with the United Nations refugee agency in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. At least 24 Buddhist monks are said to be among the group gathered at the UNHCR office in the city. They arrived at the building after being ordered to leave a pagoda near Phnom Penh, where they had been granted shelter. A spokesman for the group says they were forced to leave Vietnam after suffering persecution from the authorities. [Source: ABC Radio Australia, August 3, 2005 **]

The UNHCR says most of the group have been officially recognised as asylum-seekers, but that the process of deciding on their refugee status has yet to be finalised. The refugee agency also says the group is to be allowed to return to the pagoda. The asylum-seekers come from a part of southern Vietnam comprising the Mekong Delta. Their region, home to about 12 million ethnic Khmers, was incorporated into what is now Vietnam 56 years ago. **

Khmer Culture

It is impossible to be without this kind of traditional music at a Khmer wedding reception in the South of Vietnam. Though there has been much change in the wedding customs of the Khmer, traditional wedding music has been well preserved by its people. Researchers have collected some ten ceremonial songs and folk songs which used to be sung at wedding receptions. The traditional songs sang at the wedding are expressions of the feelings and characteristics of the people's lives in the Khmer community. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

Each song is equivalent to a specific rite in the wedding, such as leading the bridegroom to the bride's house, asking for the breaking of the fence to get into the house, and the beginning of the ceremony. The ceremony incorporates the rituals of the hair cut, the pounding solution for dying teeth, the cutting of betel flowers into pieces in order to scatter them on heads of the young couple, the drawing of a sword out of its sheath, the binding of thread around the wrist, the kowtowing of the sun god, the act of entering into the wedding room, the sweeping of the wedding mat, and the greeting of parents and relatives. The reception lasts until the young couple see off their wedding guests. ~

The dan nhi is a bow instrument with two strings, commonly used among the Viet ethnic group and several national minorities: Muong, Tay, Thai, Gie Trieng, Khmer. The dan nhi comprises a tubular body made of hard wood with snake or python skin stretched over one end and a bridge. The neck of the dan nhi has no frets. Made of hard wood, one end of the neck goes through the body; the other end slants slightly backward. There are two pegs for tuning. The two strings, which used to be made of silk, are now of metal and are tuned in fifths: C-1 D-2; F-1 C-2; or C-1 G-1.

M'Nong Ethnic Group

The Mnong is a group of about 200,000 slash-and-burn farmers that live in the southern highlands of Vietnam . Highland rice is their staple crop. They also grow maize, bananas, beans, eggplants, taro, yams and vegetables and have traditionally raised sugar cane and tobacco as cash crops and gathered bamboo shoots, saffron and mint. Women are skilled weavers. Men hunt. Men and women fish. The Mnong are animists. Shaman serve as healers. Important festivals and events are marked by sacrifice of buffalo. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The M'Nong (also known as the Bru Dang, Preh, Ger, Nong, Prang, PJam, Kuyenh, Chil Bu Nor, and M'Nong Bu Dang) are concentrated in the southern parts of Dak Lak and Dak Nong provinces, and parts of Lam Dong and Binh Phuoc provinces. There were 92,451 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. M'Nong language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The M'Nong live in houses built on stilts or level with the ground. Each village usually has dozens of households. The village chief plays a major role in village life. They like to drink alcohol from jars with pipes and smoke tobacco threads rolled in leaves. Matriarchy is observed and the children take the family name of their mother. The wife holds the key position in the household. The M'Nong like to have many children, especially daughters. One year after the birth of a child, the baby is given a name. At funerals, people sing, and beat gongs and drums at the side of the coffin. After placing the coffin in the grave, they cover it with plants, tree boughs, and leaves before filling the grave with earth. After seven days, the family holds a rite which completes the mourning process. The M'Nong believe in the existence of many spirits which are related to their life. One such spirit is Mother Rice who has a special role. ~

Men generally wear loincloths and leave their upper torsos naked. Women wear skirts which fall to their ankles. Dark indigo loincloths, skirts, and vests are decorated with red-colored designs. The M'Nong use the slash-and-burn method of farming. The M'Nong in Ban Don are well known for their elephant hunting and domestication. Women handle the weaving of cotton cloth, while the men work on basketry. ~

Temporary houses are used by people from south Central Highland like the Mnong, Je Trieng, and Stieng. These are long house but because of the custom of shifting the location of houses they are all single-storey house with unstable materials (wood is of a a thin or small type). The house is covered with thatch which is hanging down near the ground. Two oval doors are under the thatch.

Vietnam’s Space of Gong Culture

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands of Viet Nam covers 5 provinces of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong. The masters of gong culture are the ethnic groups of Ba Na, Xo Dang, M’Nong, Co Ho, Ro Mam, E De, Gia Ra. The gong performances are always closely tied to community cultural rituals and ceremonies of the ethnic groups in Central Highlands. Many researchers have classified gongs as ceremonial musical instrument and the gong sounds as a means to communicate with deities and gods. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The gongs are made of brass alloy or a mixture of brass and gold, silver, bronze. Their diameter is from 20cm to 60cm or from 90cm to 120cm. A set of gongs consists of 2 to 12 or 13 units and even to 18 or 20 units in some places. In most of ethnic groups, namely Gia Rai, Ede Kpah, Ba Na, Xo Dang, Brau, Co Ho, etc., only males are allowed to play gongs. However, in others such as Ma and M’Nong groups, both males and females can play gongs. Few ethnic groups (for example, E De Bih), gongs are performed by women only. ~

The space of gong culture in Central Highlands are heritage with temporal and spatial imprints. Through its categories, sound-amplifying method, sound scale and gamut, tunes and performance art, we will have an insight in a complicated art developing from simple to complexity, from single to multi-channel. It contains different historical layers of the development of music since the primitive period. All artistic values have the relationships of similarities and dissimilarities, bringing about their regional identities. With its diversity and originality, it’s possible to confirm that gongs hold a special status in Viet Nam’s traditional music. ~

See Space of Gongs, Music

Mon

The Mon are an ethnic group that lives primarily in Myanmar but are also found in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are an old group that has been in Burma for over a thousand years and in Thailand at least 400 years and were largely independent and had a great empire until they were defeated by the Burmese in 1757. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993)]

The Mon are also known as the Mun, Peguan, Talaing, Taleng, There about 1.5 million of them in Myanmar; 100,000 in Thailand and smaller numbers in Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mon speak an Austroasiatic language in Mon-Khmer group and practice Theravada Buddhism like the Burmese and Thais. In Myanmar, most also speak Burmese. For many Mon Burmese is their first language. Although they have their own state in Myanmar and have been active in the ethnic insurgency against the Myanmar government they have largely been assimilated there.

The Mon have traditionally lived in villages in the lowlands and raised wet rice, sweet potatoes, pineapples and sugar cane and fished for consumption and money. Competition from Thai commercial vessels has caused Mon fishing to decline. The Mon are regarded as superb potters. Many still live in thatched roof houses without electricity. Many villages have a single ramshackle school with perhaps one teacher.

Mon History

The first major group of immigrants to arrive in present-day Burma were the Mon who were originally from China and settled in what is now northern Burma around the third century B.C. The Mon where a highly cultured Buddhist people with a classical North Indian heritage who settled in Central Burma.

The Mon and were heavily influenced by Indian Hindu culture and Asoka Buddhist kingdom in India.. They established the Dvaravati Kingdom (A.D. 6th to 11th century) and several centers in mainland Southeast Asia. The Dvaravatis controlled the Menam Valley area from the 6th or 7th century to the 11th century. They were ultimately defeated by the Thais who absorbed much of their culture.

Pegu in Myanmar was established by the Mon in the 6th century, it was the capital of southern Myanmar in the 13th century, when the Mons ruled the region. In 1757, it was sacked and almost completely destroyed by the Burmese monarch, King Alaungpaya.

Ra Glai Ethnic Group

The Ra Glai (also known as the Ra Glay, Krai, Orang Glai, No-Ana, and La Vang) live in Mainly in the southern regions of Khanh Hoa and Ninh Thuan provinces. There were 96,931 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Ra Glai language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian Group. After the harvest season, all villagers gather to pay thanks to Giang and to enjoy the new rice harvest. Formerly the Ra Glai simply grew rice and maize using slash-and-burn farming techniques. They also developed wet rice agriculture. Hunting, picking, gathering, and making handicrafts are other forms on income generation. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Ra Glai believe there is a spiritual world known as "Giang" that includes good and evil forces. They traditionally live in stilted houses. The pa-lay is headed by a po pa-lay (a village chief who is generally the first landowner). Matriarchy remains in existence in Ra Glai society, as the children take the family name of their mother. If a young woman wants to marry a young man, she will first ask her parents if they can prepare the wedding ceremony. During the marriage process, the bride's younger brother has a fairly important say in the decision making. ~

Xtieng Ethnic Group

The Xtieng (also known as the Xa Dieng) live in four northern districts of Binh Phuoc Province and in Dong Nai and Tay Ninh provinces. There were 66,788 of them in 1999 according to the census taken that year. The Xtieng language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group. The Xtieng cultivate rice in submerged fields and have used oxen and buffaloes as draught animals for a long time. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com,Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]

The Xtieng live a sedentary lifestyle. Each family builds its own house. Each village is led by an elderly man who must be experienced in the affairs of the community, dynamic, and trusted by the villagers. The Xtieng can marry outside their lineage. After the wedding, the bride comes to live in her husband's house. The Xtieng believe in animism and the mystical powers of thunder, lightning bolts, the heavens, and the earth. The Xtieng calculate their age according to the number of harvests that they have gathered. ~

The Xtieng enjoy music and popular musical instruments, such as the six-patterned gong set. These gongs are made of bamboo panpipes. Xtieng women wear skirts and the men wear loincloths. In winter, they cover themselves in blankets. The women wear their hair long and tie it in a bun at the back of their heads. They usually wear ivory earrings pierced into their earlobes, or tattoo their faces and body with simple motifs. ~

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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