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PostPosted: Sat Oct 11, 2003 6:43 pm 

Joined: Wed Sep 17, 2003 2:32 am
Posts: 7
Location: Vietnam

A new trip and a new adventure in our endeavor to study and to learn more about the culture and the textiles of the Tai people. This time we went to an area known as Dien Bien Phu, mainly known for the historic defeat of the French by the Vietnamese, in 1954. But Dien Bien Phu has a much older and for us more intriguing history. According to Tai Dam oral folk history, this area was called Sipsong Chu Tai or ‘Twelve Tai Cantons’. It was their legendary homeland comprising twelve feudal states situated along the Red and Black Rivers. According to the same legends it was Khun Borom who in the year 737 crowned himself king of Sipsong Chu Tai. Whether legendary or historical it is Khun Borom who always plays an important role in the history of the Tai and Lao people and his seven sons were sent to rule over the seven Tai areas.

Our starting point was Hanoi and from there we traveled to Mai Chau, Moc Chau, Yen Chau, Sonla, Tuan Giao, Dien Bien Phu, Lau Chau, Tam Duong and Sapa. Besides spectacular mountains and views the area is home to many Tai Dam and Tai Khaw groups, although the Tai Lu and the Tay are living here as well. As we learned earlier, the Tai were never the sole inhabitants of the area, and here in Sipsong Chu Tai they are surrounded by the Muong, different Hmong groups and sub-groups, the Dzao and the Fula people. We visited all these different groups and learned a lot about their weaving, embroidery, and way of life.

The best way to learn about the ‘way of life’ of the Tai is to stay with them for one night: to leave your shoes at the bottom of the stairs, to share the evening with the host and hostess, to enjoy a wonderful meal sitting on the floor and listen to some traditional music to prepare you for a quiet and well-deserved night. Even bathroom procedures were done smoothly and we slept on the family heirlooms: the mattresses probably made by our hostess for her own wedding.

The roosters made sure we were not going to oversleep ourselves, and after breakfast we got another wonderful Tai experience. The hostess, a weaver and dyer herself, showed us how she made the different colors, including the mysterious krang (red color) and showed us the weaving process. We left the Tai Khaw village with some regret, but there was more to explore.

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to the Muong people. The Muong people are not Tai, but they have been living close to the Tai Khaw, and have adopted much of their culture, including their dress. They were waiting for us, and while walking up the hill we could hear them beating their gongs to welcome us to their village. They were all dressed in their traditional clothes, and indeed, the breast-piece or ‘hua’ as the Tai says is exactly the same as those worn by the Tai Khaw. We enjoyed our time here in the village, sharing the traditional rice-wine with the Muong, enjoying their songs, and playing their games. Games we all used to play as a child and again we had to throw the decorated soft balls to the men who were eager to show their prowess by trying to hit us! It was again fun or should I say ‘sanuk’, because it really was ‘sanuk mak mah’.

Although the days were sometimes long, we never had time to feel bored, as the roads were packed with Tai people, doing the things you do in normal life, working in the fields, going to the market, looking after the children or carrying firewood home. The Tai Dam were always dressed in their typical costume, a tightly fitted blouse that closed with the silver butterfly buttons, a black skirt and of course the spectacular headdress. These headdresses were the most intriguing aspect of their outfit, as they changed from village to village. Sometimes we even saw the Tai Dam headscarf on the head of the Hmong who gave it some typical Hmong touch by adding orange pompoms, and further down the road we saw a Tai Dam village where the headscarf had the orange pompoms as well. Living together, interacting with each other creates wonderful blends and being able to recognize it gives an extra dimension to the travel experience.

Finally we reached Sapa, home to the Red Dzao and Black Hmong and this time we had given ourselves a task, to find a shaman and a bride. Main reason was that in Hanoi we had bought some outfits for the shaman and some bridal veils, and of course we would love to see this in reality. Not easy, but making sure that the message goes around we were taken to a village to see the bride’s spectacular outfit and guess what, we were able to buy more of these bridal veils.

The Red Dzao are wearing a head-cloth of many layers, actually there are 7 up to 15 pieces of rectangular red cloth for a normal day, for a wedding it can be up to 30 of these pieces decorated with coins, pompons or bells. The color is red, and it is quite outstanding in combination with their black trousers and jacket. The whole outfit is decorated with lots of embroidery, but the headdress is the most catching one. That explains their name, Red Dzao.

The shaman who was working in the fields was called home to show us his outfit, and when he showed up, he was dressed for ‘action’! As red is the color of the group, the shaman’s outfit was really red and with his staff, horn and scripture book he seemed ready to manipulate the spirits and the gods.

Were the gods indeed manipulated by the shaman or was it luck on our side, but before boarding our train to Hanoi we had one more village to visit. A Tay village, related to the Tai. Everything seemed quiet, but we were told that in one house the shaman was performing a name-giving ceremony for a baby, only four weeks old. We were allowed in and saw the woman in a trance session to make sure that the little baby was going to have the right name and a good and happy life. In the Tai world, the shaman is in most cases a woman, and it was the crown on our trip to see this confirmed.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Oct 12, 2003 12:41 am 

Joined: Tue Jul 01, 2003 4:52 am
Posts: 162
Location: California, USA

You describe a fascinating visit to a fascinating and diverse area, and one many of us hope to visit some day. Let me just clarify a few terms you include here:

The term TAY people normally refers to both the T'ai Khao/w (White T'ai), and the T'ai Dam (Black T'ai) who live in NE Laos and NW Vietnam. The T'ai Lu are another ethnic group there, but unlike the other T'ai groups, its name doesn't reflect a color favored in their clothing.

The Muong are an Austroasiatic ethnic group, and speak a language of the Mon-Khmer family.

KRANG isn't particularly mysterious, but it can be a difficult color to obtain, since it is the ground sap of the stick lac. Krang is normally used to dye silk in various shades of pink, red, and orange, since sappan wood, a major source of red dye on cotton, will not take on silk. (Indigo as prepared amongst the T'ai, also is a difficult color to fix on silk, and many blue colors on silk may not be natural.)

It's interesting that you note climbing up to a T'ai house. It is said that an ancient king of Laos set the borders of his country exactly where houses on stilts, T'ai (and some Malay) style, ended, and houses built on the ground (Vietnam style) began. Entry to a house on stilts is normally on a ladder, allowing the neighborhood to enjoy the sight of a "farang" (foreigner) carefully ascending or descending the rungs.

Alas, one never learns anything of a people anywhere in only one night, of that I can assure you.


 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2003 12:11 pm 

Joined: Wed Sep 17, 2003 2:32 am
Posts: 7
Location: Vietnam
Hi Sandie!

1. the TAY are sometimes divided just as the Tai in Tai Khao or Tai Dam, but these designations are no longer widely used. The Tay, Tai, Tho, Lue... are member of the Daic Groups and again according Micheal Howard the Tay do not live in Laos, but yes they do live in China. The Tay, Tai, Tho, Lue.. are classified as different ethnic groups by Vietnamese scholars.
The Tai in Vietnam has serveral subgroups such as:
Tai Kao ( Tai Pao): Maichau , Muong Xo ( Phongtho)
Tai Dam: Muong Vat ( Yen Chau ) - Sonla
Tai Daeng: Lang Chanh - Quanson - Thanh Hoa province
Tai Muang ( Tay Hang Tong): Concuong, Tuongduong - Nghean province
Tai Thanh (Man Thanh): Nghiadan, Quychau, Quephong - Nghean province
Tai Kun Tinh : Quyhop - Nghean province

I never came across the Tay in Laos, and I traveled extensively in Laos! There might be some confusion with the name as the Tay also live in the eastern part of Nghe An province and are categorized as Tai by Vietnamese although they call themselves Tay. You see, lots of differences due to interpretation!!

2. TAI LU, or LUE true the name does not refer to any dress color, but interestingly they live still in Yunnan, northern Thailand, Laos and the Shan State (Myanmar). The Lue we met on our trip belong to the Ban Ho or Black Lu sub-group. They are colorful too. Now, do you remember their dress, black, deep black indigo with some white stripes. Interesting.

3. Yes the MUONG are not Tai, that makes it so interesting for us!
The Austroasiatic language family includes ethnic groups speaking Viet-Muong and Mon-Khmer languages. Approximaterly 50 ethnic groups with a population of
about 80 million distributed throughout Asia make up this gorup. Some created nations such as Vietnam & Cambodia and two languages in this group - Vietnamese & Cambodian are national languages. Speaker of Viet-Muong & Monkhmer are the descendanst of the most ancient inhabitants of Mainland Southeast Asia. This is the largest language family in Vietnam including 25 ethnic group residing from the North to the South, from the coasts to plains up to the highland.
+ Speaker of Viet-Muong language
- Viet
- Muong
- Tho
- Chut
+ Speaker of Monkhmer
- Mang
- Khang
- O-Du

- Khomer
- Ma
- Ta-oi
- Brau
- Ba-na
- Bru-Vankieu
- Co-Tu
- Cho-ro
- Co
- Co-ho
- Gie-trieng
- H're
- M'nong
- Ro-mam

So, the Muong does speak a language of Viet-Muong. This includes the Tho ( in Nghia Dan, Nghean province), the Chut ( Quang Binh province)

4. KRANG: maybe not mysterious in Vietnam, but in Thailand yes, we have many different explanations how to get the color from the ants, so for our group it was the mysterious krang and we were delighted to see our questions answered. Please do realize we are 'farang' and not familiar with weaving skills and dying techniques.

5. I think of course people cannot learn 'anything' by staying one night in the house of anybody, but our group member are indeed 'farang' living in Thailand, for many, many years. They do live with the Tai, eat their food, live with their culture, and on top of that explain visiting tourists in the National Museum of Bangkok Thai history, Thai religion and Thai culture. They are all very familiar with their way of life, and that is what the story is about, learning that there are more Tai groups living in Southeast Asia, for them it is a recognizing that these people are indeed Tai. And that is all, nothing more and nothing less. They went to Sipsong Panna (Yunnan), Laos and Vietnam and it was for them wonderful to experience the 'Tai-ness' of all these different people. Even in Thailand there are obvious difference between the different Tai groups, differences in dress, culture and weaving techniques.


 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 21, 2003 8:24 pm 

Joined: Tue Jul 01, 2003 4:52 am
Posts: 162
Location: California, USA
Dear Zoom,

I give up, and crown you the new pedant of the Forum! You have a very deep knowldge of both the area and the people who inhabit it. And I look forward to hearing more from you about the weaving traditions and textiles of northern Vietnam.

best wishes,


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