Tay minority

Tay minority

Where to visit: Tay minority people can be visited in Ban Ho and Thanh Phu villages on the way to Nam Cang.

History: The Tay are the earliest known minority in Vietnam, believed to have arrived from inland Southeast Asia about 500 BC and settled in valleys in the Northwest part of Sapa.

Language: The language of Tay people belongs to the Tay – Thai language group, with an alphabet based on the Latin alphabet devised in 1960, similar to the Vietnamese alphabet.

Dress: Tay traditional clothing is made from cotton dyed with indigo, usually worn plain, with little in the way of embroidery or other decoration. Women wear a simple shirt with silver buttons down the front teamed with black trousers. Both sexes add colour to their outfit with a bright head scarf. Today, it is common to see Tay people wearing western clothing.

Social organisation: The early Tay social system which lasted until the 19th century resembled a feudal society. Each village was ruled by one man who owned the land, forest and rivers and ruled over the people living on the land.

These days, Tay live in villages of mixed ethnic groups, enter into mixed marriages and often leave their birthplace to work in other areas. Elements of Kinh culture and of the Tai speaking people have been adopted into Tay culture and the people are considered the most integrated into mainstream Vietnamese culture of all the ethnic groups.

Birth: Tay believe that during pregnancy and after birth, the mother and father must avoid many things to ensure the health of the mother and child and for the child to grow up to be strong and avoid evil spirits. A ritual to honour the midwife is held when the newborn is three days old, and one month after the birth a celebration and naming party is held for the baby.

Marriage: Young Tay are free to date who they chose, however their parents select their marriage partners for them. A boy’s parents will consult an astrologer who will judge how well matched he is to a potential bride, with her wealth compared to that of their son. A marriage can only take place if the signs look favourable.

Following the marriage union the bride remains with her parents until she is pregnant, only moving in to her husband’s house in her third trimester.

Funeral: The funeral rituals of Tay are quite similar to those of the Vietnamese, whereby  the funeral sends the spirit of the deceased to the world of the afterlife. Three years later, a ritual is held to bring the spirit to the ancestors, ending the mourning period. A day is given over to honour the deceased each year.

Beliefs: The Tay worship ancestors, the house spirit, kitchen spirit and the midwife.

Housing: Houses of Tay people are built on stilts originally designed to keep wild animals from entering. Nowadays the area under the house is used for storage and cooking. Plots for new houses are given careful consideration, with the owners age and horoscope taken into account, amongst other factors. On the day that a family move to their new house, a fire is started by the head of the family which is kept burning all night.

Food: In the past the Tay ate sticky rice as their staple food, but these days regular rice is eaten. Many kinds of cakes are made and eaten on festive occasions, such as square rice cake (banh chung – symbol of the earth) and round rice cake (banh day  – symbol of the sky) for the New Year Festival and pounded and roasted young sticky rice (com) for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Production activities: The Tay people practice traditional wet rice cultivation. Rice is grown on the hills employing irrigation methods such as digging canals and laying water pipes to reduce water use. High crop yields result from such intensive cultivation methods.