Xa Pho minorityXa Pho Minority

Where to visit: Xa Pho minority people can be visited in My Son village, the last village before Nam Cang.

History: The Xa Pho came to Vietnam 200 – 300 years ago, with their style of dress leading some scholars to believe they immigrated from the southern islands of Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia.

Language: The language of Xa Pho people belongs to the Tibeto – Burmese language group. According to other minority groups, Xa Pho people can speak most of the other languages in the area, but it is difficult to understand their language, which some say sounds like birds singing.

Dress: The clothing worn by Xa Pho is distinct from that of other minorities. A short shirt is worn by women together with a longer skirt made from indigo-dyed hemp fabric. Clothing is elaborately decorated with embroidery in bright red thread.

Social organisation: Xa Pho people possess a particularly strong sense of community, with neighbours playing important roles in their villages. If a family has no food, their neighbours will provide meals for them. If neither family has food, they will go together to another family to eat. During times of hardship when no-one in the village has any food, the villagers all scavenge for fruit and vegetables in the forest together. When a family kills a chicken or a pig, everyone in the village joins them to feast, without needing an invitation.

Xa Pho people are semi-nomadic; they grow dry rice, but primarily live on what nature has to offer. While other minorities may live together in villages, Xa Pho tend to live in isolation. Only one tribe live in Sapa, and they have a very low living standard compared with other minorities in the same valley.

Birth: After a woman gives birth, strangers are forbidden from entering the house. A hat hung on a pillar in front of their house, or a blackened pillar with leafy branches attached known as a dum dum warns people away. The newborn is named during a special ceremony at 12 days old. Xa Pho people are given two names – one for use in everyday life and the other for formal occasions including worshiping the ancestors and being worshipped after death.

Marriage: Young Xa Pho have the right to have sexual relationships before marriage. Since the Xa Pho have a very low population, a man wants to ensure his partner is able to have children and so marriages are only organised once a young woman is pregnant. The future bride starts making her wedding dress while her groom prepares pigs, chicken and other food for the wedding feast.

Funerals: After death, the deceased’s body is placed in the middle of the house, with the head facing in the direction of the household altar. Certain rituals must be carried out, such as the water used to wash the deceased’s face being left to evaporate and a bowl of rice with a pair of chopsticks and a barbecued or roasted chicken left next to the altar. The children of the deceased place straw around the wooden coffin, since straw was used to sleep on in the past. The coffin is buried in a grave or a tomb, with a high turnout for the funeral hoped for to ensure the spirit of the dead is satisfied and departs their tomb and the cemetery.

Housing: The Xa Pho live in houses built half on stilts and half on the ground. Furniture is simple and made of bamboo or rattan.

Artistry: Dance forms a big part of Xa Pho culture, with dances performed for many occasions such as marriage, funerals, births, or even when the community has run out of food. Their dancing style is very different to that of other minorities. To the rhythm of a beating drum, the Xa Pho join hands and dance in a circle around a fire.