The northern mountainous province of Tuyen Quang is home to nearly 100,000 people of Dao ethnicity whose culture boasts unique customs, rituals and arts.
A ritual at the coming-of-age ceremony of Dao ethnic people
Tuyen Quang is the only province in Vietnam home to all nine Dao subgroups, namely Dao Do, Dao Tien, Dao Cooc Mun, Dao Quan Chet, Dao O Gang, Dao Cooc Ngang, Dao Quan Trang, Dao Thanh Y, and Dao Ao Dai.
Unique worship rituals
Phung Chuong Chi, a shaman in Tho Binh commune of Lam Binh district, said the group’s worship customs are very diverse, including typical rituals like coming-of-age ceremonies and funerals.
Dao worship rituals are deeply imbued with humanity, reminding people of their origin and connecting the community, he noted.
Paintings are widely used in Dao people’s rituals, and there are specific paintings for each occasion. Tam Tuong, also called Tam Thanh, is among the most popular sets of worship paintings. It features three gods: Ngoc Thanh (governing heaven), Thuong Thanh (governing Earth), and Thai Thanh (governing hell).
Chi said the paintings reflect the ethnic group’s conception of the universe and they believe that gods protect humans.
Green, red, purple, black and white are the main colours in the paintings, but they also vary according to the topic and characters of each picture. While the costume of Ngoc Thanh is mostly coloured with blue, green and white, Thuong Thanh’s is green, blue and dark brown, and Thai Thanh wears a red, black, yellow and brown costume.
Artisan Phan Van Phu in Tan Thanh commune of Ham Yen district said Dao people believe that gods see everything and will punish people with evil ideas. Just by looking at paintings of the gods, those with bad intentions will shelve their plans.
Coming-of-age rituals – national intangible cultural heritage
The coming-of-age ceremony is the most special tradition of Dao people, artisan Ban Kim Son in Son Phu commune of Na Hang district said, adding that it is an indispensable ritual for Dao boys to be recognised as men and having full rights to engage with the community.
The ceremony, usually held in November, December or January, includes rituals such as carrying a lamp, reporting to the Heaven God, coming of age and paying tribute to ancestors.
The coming-of-age ceremony also varies between the Dao subgroups. Its organisation can be divided into three forms. Indoor and outdoor rituals combined with folk dances and games are conducted by the subgroups of Dao Thanh Y, Dao Quan Trang and Dao Ao Dai. Meanwhile, Dao Tien and Dao Cooc Ngang people carry out the coming-of-age ceremony indoors. People of Dao Do, Dao Quan Chet, Dao Cooc Mun and Dao O Gang hold rituals indoors first and then outdoors.
With its special values, the coming-of-age ceremony of Dao ethnics in Tuyen Quang province was named national intangible cultural heritage in November 2013.
Special Pao Dung singing
Pao Dung singing is considered a treasure of Dao people who express their aspirations through this art. Each Dao subgroup has its own singing style. While some perform Pao Dung in a low pitch, others sing high-pitched.
Chu Tuan Ngan, an artisan in Trung Minh commune of Yen Son district, said Pao Dung singing developed from daily activities of the ethnic group. Despite singing style differences among subgroups, all Pao Dung melodies of Dao people in Tuyen Quang highlight good behaviour, nature and creativity.
The art includes singing in daily life (including lullabies, entertainment, love), singing in religious rituals, and singing during work.
Pao Dung singing was also listed as national intangible cultural heritage.
Tran Duc Thang, head of the cultural heritage division of the Tuyen Quang provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the province has carried out many activities over the years to preserve and promote the cultural identities of Dao people. A culture preservation club was also set up with representatives of all nine Dao subgroups.
In the future, Tuyen Quang plans to build plans to preserve Dao culture. A national Dao cultural festival, the first of its kind, will be held in the province this September to honour the group’s culture.
Thang added the culture department will also survey Dao culture in Na Hang and Lam Binh districts, preserve folk cultural values and revive traditional crafts and costumes of Dao people.