Ethnic groups of Tày – Thái language group have a common historical origin in the ancient Bách Việt block. Ancient Tày – Thái people have contributed to create indigenous culture in South China and North Indonesia which is called South Asia culture or Red River civilization.
The Tày – Thái language group has 8 ethnic groups: Tày, Thái, Nùng, Lào, Lự, Bố Y, Sán Chay and Giáy. They live in concentration in provinces of Lạng Sơn, Cao Bằng, Thái Nguyên, Bắc Kạn, Tuyên Quang, Hà Giang, Sơn La, Lai Châu, Lào Cai, Yên Bái, Thanh Hóa and Nghệ An etc…
* Exhibition topic No. 1: mountainous village structure of TÀY – THÁI people.
Mountainous villages of ethnic groups of Tày – Thái language family are often built in valleys or slopes of hills. Every village has from 20 – 25 houses, and up to tens of houses in big ones. A house is built according to landscape, at the foot of hill, back to the mountain, facing toward rice field and river or stream, favourable for production and traveling. Each village has its specific boundary, water source, rice field and cemetery. The villages of Tày, Nùng and Sán Chay people often have hedges and gardens around houses. The village of Thái people in the Nortwest is built in concentration.
* Exhibition topic No. 2: house of THÁI people (group of black THÁI)
All ethnic groups of Tày – Thái language family Tày – Thái live in stilted houses, but each ethnic group has its own characteristics in style, architecture and plan inside its house.
In its exhibition, the Museum has a model of a corner of the Thái’s house (group of black Thái), Thuận Châu District, Sơn La province.
The Black Thái’s house is shaped like a tortoise shell. This traditional architecture is related to a legend. Formerly the Thái did not know how to built they house. One night, they had a dream that a tortoise told them: “Look at my shape to build house, four legs are four main columns to support the house, scales on the shell are tiles of the roof”. Since then, stilted house of the Black Thái Đen has had the shape of a tortoise shell.
The house of the Black Thái people is made from bamboo, small bamboo, wood and thatched roof. It has two main lengthways roofs and two additional withways roofs. Its gables have decorations in the shape called khau cút.
The windows are decorated with the shape of a crescent moon, which is related to the Thái’s migration. There are also decoration type of symmetrical mother and child – father and child, expressing a wish of having a happy family. The bars in the shape of the teeth of a harrow are the signs of the wealthy and happiness of its owner.
The Thái stilted house always has two stairs. In front is the one reserved for male and guests, called táng quản. The back stairs are reserved for women, called táng chan.
The inside of the house is closely arranged. Before marriage, the grown up sons sleep at the wall behind táng quản, which is considered the place of god, and reserved for worshipping. Then come the bed rooms of the parents and grown up daughters. Young couple’s bed room is always at the end of the house.
The house has two fire places, one at the head of táng quản for boiling water, heating and receiving male guests. Another one is at táng chan for female guests, cooking meal and mash
Every bed room of the Thái is decorated beautifully and neatly with brocade products such as blanket, cushions, mattress and curtains. The Thái bed rooms partly testifies the development of their cotton growing and fabric weaving. Formerly, only Thái women who knew how to grow cotton and weave fabric could marry and feed their children. Therefore, from 12-13 years old, the girls have to learn embroidery and weaving fabric so that when grown up they can weave all necessary things to meet their family requirements. According to Thái customs, when a girl marries, she has to wear traditional attire and bring to her husband’s family a lot of dowry, mainly weaving products: blanket, cushions and mattress etc…
Thái women are always tidy and take care of the eating and sleeping places for every member of her family. If a guest comes and stays overnight, by the fireplace, the man receives the guest while woman prepares the most beautiful blanket and cushion, warming up them in advance, then invites the guest to have a rest. Gradually, this custom has become a beautiful traditional cultural feature imbued with humanitarian character.
* Exhibition topic No. 3: kitchen of THE TaY people.
In the traditional stilted house of Tay people there are always two kitchens, one at the outside room for heating, boiling water and receiving guests, and another one at the inside room for cooking.
The cooking kitshen is near to the water container for easily cooking. The cooking fire frame is made of oak wood, or teakwood. On every cooking fire, it is possible to set up two tripots for cooking both meal and mash for pig. When in the family there is a wedding, funeral or guest, a tripot is used for cooking foods, the other for cooking rice or steamed glutinous rice.
Cooking fire is very important for Tay people. Therefore, after building a house, they attach much importance to the new house coming. After the rites of worshipping deities and ancestors, it is a must for the house owner to bring some symbolic things such as vinegar jar, ferment jar and lime pot etc. into the new house.
The Tày also have the custom of keeping fire by two big and long firewoods to bank fire day and night in the kitchen. When cooking, it takes only a thin spill and a blow-pipe to flare up the fire. On the Lunar New Year eve’s night, people use two firewoods long enough to keep the fire without being burnt out until the end of Lunar January. While putting the fire-banking woods into the kitchen, the house owner also ties a lẳng cake to the longest firewood and burn an incense to wish for a wealthy and lucky life, at the same time to show his gratitude to the fire’s loyalty whole year and whole life to the people and invite the cooking fire to enjoy a New Year with his whole family.
After a day’s tiresome labour, all member of the family sit around the cooking fire to talk and discuss the family works while women sit by the fire taking advantage of this time to turn a reel to make thread for weaving fabric.
The image of a charming Tay girl turning a reel to make thread by a red cooking fire is a familiar one in the evening. In festival time, guests to the Tay’s home also enjoy the flavour of glutinous rice cooked in bamboo tubes that show the people’s deep affection.
* Exhibition topic No. 4: traditional handicrafts of THE TÀY – THÁI group.
The self-sufficing economy makes household sideline jobs develop. People make by themselves all necessary products for their daily use, from growing cotton, reeling thread, weaving fabric, knitting, forging, pottery to carpentry.
+ Forging vocation of the Nùng An:
The traditional forging vocation of Nùng people has a rather high technique. Its products are not only used by the Nùng but also liked by neighboring ethnic groups. Most developed is the forging vocation of Nùng An group in Phúc Xen, Quảng Uyên District, Cao Bằng Province. With the blacksmiths’ skilfull hands and simple tools such as bellow, anvil, tongs and hammer, the Nùng make necessay things for their daily life. The forging products of Nùng An people range from household utensils and production tools of more than 20 kinds, but most popular are the agricultural production tools for people in the area such as: knife, hoe, sickle, pincers, rice cutter and shovel.
+ Pottery of the Thái
Formerly, the traditional vocation of pottery of the Thái existed in many places: Thuận Châu, Chiềng Cơi, Hua La and Mai Sơn (Sơn La). Today, it has lost in oblivion in these places, and is only maintained by the Thái in Mường Chanh, Mai Sơn District.
The main material for making pottery in Mường Chanh is clay of light white, dark blue and yellow colours, very fine and plastic, so it is not necessary to go through processing or mix with kaolin. The tool for shaping pottery of the Thái is a round wooden turning table with diameter from 39 to 40 cm and height from 19 to 20 cm, put on a wooden pillar which is fixed on the ground.
Baking is the key phase in pottery production of the Thái in Mường Chanh, it decides the product quality. All families in Mường Chanh build by themselves their kilns for baking pottery. People choose a hard ground or weatherized ground to dig a kiln so that they can save firewood, have better baked product and it would not collapse in raining season.
They use hoe and shovel to dig up a hill slope to make cellar kiln shaped like a tortoise shell (high in the middle and gradually lower toward surrounding). The kiln bottom is slanting and slopes down from the chimney toward kiln door.
The pottery products of the Thái in Mường Chanh are very diversifie, including more than 10 kinds with various shapes and sises. They are mainly households things such as pot, jar with handle, steaming pot, portar and pestle to grind spices, tocsins for buffalo and cow. Beside household utensils, the pottery kilns in Mường Chanh also produce some fine art pottery and animal puppets: buffalo, cow, horse, pig, chicken, duck, crab and fish. The Thái in Mường Chanh also make some valuable pottery such as big pot and small neck vase as dowry for girls when they marry.
Pottery of the Thái in Mường Chanh belongs to the plain one, without covered with enamel, less sophisticated and even rather coarse, but its beauty exudes from this coarse by itself. Mường Chanh pottery has many advantages: lighter, more difficult to be broken and less leaking than the one in other places.
In Mường Chanh, all members of a family from old to young people can participate in making pottery. Women, girls and children can exploit raw material, process it and turn the table. And men are responsible for more important stages such as shaping the products, putting them into the kiln and baking.
Beeing aged-old agricultural inhabitants, all ethnic groups of Tày- Thái language family have experienced a long period of self-subsistence economy. Apart from cultivation and breeding, household sideline jobs such as carpentry, forging and weaving also develop to meet their requirements on food, wearing and necessary household things. In which traditional fabric weaving is considered a strong point of inhabitants in the valleys. Every family grows cotton by itself for spinning thread and weaving fabric. All families have tools of weaving fabric: cotton rollers, reels for spinning thread and looms. Many families have even two to three looms. In order to have a piece of cloth, women have to carry out many phases such as planting cotton, rolling cotton, carding cotton, making cotton fleece, loosening, stiffening, dying, and spreading thread, arranging warps and woofs and weaving fabric.
The fabric weaving is done by women during leisure after harvest time. So it takes a month to finish a piece of fabric, and from 5 to 6 months for a brocade. They weave fabric not only for themselves and their families but also for exchanging with other people.
* Exhibition topic No. 5: agricultural cultivation
Living in the valleys, enjoying favourable natural conditions of fertile ricefields, people of Tày – Thái language group have early developed wet rice cultivation in combination with milpa cultivation. Their farming experience and technique achieve rather high level. They closely observe agricultural calendar in planting, use plough and harrow in working the land. They have created and improved waterworks suitable for the terrain. They also have a lot of experiences in building the embankments of a ricefield, digging canal, buiding water pipes to irrigate ricefield, especially using water wheels “to bring water to ricefield.”
Water wheel is made from bamboo and wood, taking advantage of water energy, blocking the water current, creating pressure to turn the wheel. When the wheel turns, the bamboo tubes around the wheel brim will take water from stream and pour into canal to irrigate the ricefield.
On a milpa, the Tày and Thái often cultivate by slash and burn and using a stick to make holes for seeds. In harvest time, they use pincers to pick every rice ear, tie them into bunches to bring home and put on the kitchen shelf. When cooking, they crush the rice bunch to separate the seeds and pound to husk the rice.
Tools for gathering rice include sickle, cutter and pincers. The Tày, Nùng, Thái and Lao also use loóng to thrash paddy right at the field. Loóng has the shape like a dug-out canoe, but shorter. When thrashing, people strike rice bunches on two ends of loóng, putting bamboo lattices on two sides so that paddy would not be shot outside.
Loóng for thrashing paddy is a production tool of mountainous people, reflecting their cultivation technique and adaptation to environment.
Apart from rice, they also plant maize, vegetable, bean, pumpkin and other subsidiary crops to improve their life.
+ Exploitation of natural resources.
Living by the streams and rivers, the Tày – Thái also develop fishing to improve their daily meals. Their traditional fishing tools are fishing traps and weir etc, Today, people also use casting net and sweeping net.
* Means of transportation:
On the basis of their living conditions in valleys where there are streams, rivers and lakes, The Tày – Thái have created means of transportation suitable for various landscapes. For the trails along slopes, people use dậu (baskets on shoulder pole) to avoid being stuck. Baskets on shoulder pole are diversified in types and functions used in production. The type used for transporting agricultural products such as vegetable, roots and fruit is knitted with sparce bamboo laths in hexagonal pattern. The one for transporting seeds is often knitted with dense laths. Moreover, dậu as a dowry for a bridegroom coming to her husband’s home always has covers knitted with beautiful designs.
In areas close to river, people make use of the flow to transport by dug-out canoe.
The dovetail boat exhibited at the Museum is from Mr. Lù Văn Pấc’s family in Bản Hậu (Hậu Mountainous Village), Chiềng Bằng Commune, Thuận Châu District, Sơn La Province.
* Exhibition topic No. 6: LỒNG TỒNG festival
Whenever Spring and Tết (Lunar New Year) come, ethnic groups of Tày – Thái language family ebulliently organize festival to welcome spring, express their gratitude towards the genies’s blessing for a bumper crop and lucky life, at the same time to pray to the genies for a new year with good crops, safety and good health.
One of the big festivals which have the ethnic groups’ character is Lồng tồng festival.
Lồng tồng in Tày – Nùng language is a festival of going to the ricefield, organized in early spring at about 3 Lunar January.
The place for festival is often at a lage ricefield (called nà Lồng – getting down to ricefield) of a village with a big concentrated population. In front of a village temple, there is a temple worshipping the agricultural genie and land god.
The festival has two parts: Rite and festival.
Rite: is the first ritual, the most sacred and important part. Every family prepares a stray of offerings with chicken (of castrated cock), roasted pork, wine, steamed glutinous rice and rice crispies to express their gratitude towards the agricultural genie and pray for a bumper crop at the ricefield or before the temple. Then, they invite an old farmer in the area who is good in farming to make a symbolic ploughing line.
Festival: is the main part of lồng tồng Festival for visitors see and take part in traditional folk games and performances such as: unicorn dancing, tug of war, martial art, throwing còn, Sli and Lượn singing etc., especially throwing còn, an indispensable activity. This is a folk game imbued with the spirit of fecundity worshipping, and expressing the yin – yang conception of South Asia inhabitants.
The ground for còn game is a level field where villagers have planted a tall bamboo tree of 15 – 20m in the middle, the top of it is made into a ring about 50-60cm in diameter, representing the sky and called phỏng còn. Sometimes, the ring is covered with pink paper representing the virgin of a matured girl.
The square còn ball representing the earth is patched from various cloth pieces, symbolising various directions. It is stuffed with rice grains or cotton seeds, symbolizing the vitality. The còn ball also has a long tassel made of five colour cloth.
There are two ways of throwing còn ball:
The first one: Throwing còn as a ritual. This way of throwing còn requires the players having strength and technique, and throwing the ball through the ring. People think that if nobody throws the ball through the ring, in this year there would not be a yin – yang harmony and favourable weather conditions, so there would be a failure of crops and famine. Therefore, in this festival, anyone who throws the ball through the ring would be considered a bright star in this year, praised by the people and receive a village prize.
The second way: Giao duyên (love) còn throwing, in which the players of each village stand in two sides, one for male and another female. The target of the ball now is not necessary the phỏng còn ring, but they throw the ball to one another. The side which let the ball fall to the ground more times would lose. If somebody throws the ball and his/her lover catches it, it is expected that they would have a successful love relationship. Through this festival, many couples come to marriages. That is why, ethnographers say that còn throwing festival is “a day of spirit release and ecological balance.”
The festival leader closes the festival with a prayer for a good planting season, then slashes the ball open and distributes seeds to everyone.
They believe that these seeds bring good luck and will sprout quickly because they unite the forces of yin and yang in the warmth of women’s and men’s hands. Everyone receives the holy seeds with the belief and hope that their crops will increase.
* Xoè dancing of the Thái, Lào and Lự ethnic groups
Xoè is an aged-old folk cultural activity of the Thái, Lào and Lự ethnic groups that has been passed down from generation to generation. It is an integral spiritual food of the people. Xoè has the same importance to the Thái, Lào and Lự ethnic groups as the then and lượn singings to the Tày – Nùng.
In Lunar New Year festval, other festivals and new house festival etc. There should be xoè dancing with many special styles such as: xoè quạt (xoè with fans), xoè khăn (xoè with hankerchiefs), xoè nón (xoè with conical hats), xoè bướm (xoè with butterfly) and xoè đèn (xoè with lamps).
In xoè dancing, Thái women are always neat and charming in black skirts, blue belts, short jacket (called áo cóm) with two rows of butterfly shaped buttons, colourful piêu head scarves and jewellery including neclaces and bracelets etc.
The art of xoè folk dancing imbued with ethnic culture has gone down into the Vietnamese folk art and literature treasure and had a remarkable contribution to building the national cultural life.
* Exhibition topic No. 7: religions and beliefs of ethnic groups of TÀY – THÁI language family
Most of ethnic groups of Tày – Thái language family do not have an orthodox religion, but they are influenced by three traditional religions in Vietnam (Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism).
Being agricultural inhabitants, depending much on nature, the people believe that all living beings have soul. In every mountainous village there are sorcerers (called mo, Then, Tào and Pụt). It is thought that the sorcerers are endowed by god with the task of disseminating the god’s orders and help people solve difficulties in their life by rituals of worship.
The Tày, Nùng and Sán Chay ethnic groups believe that the four kinds of sorcerers Tào, Mo, Then and Pựt are children of the Jade Emperor. Among them sorcerer Tào is the eldest brother, Mo – second, Pựt – third and Then – the youngest brother. The Jade Emperor designated them to save people, treat diseases for them.
In its exhibition on religions and beliefs of ethnic groups of Tày – Thái language family, the Museum introduces a ritual in the “lẩu then” ceremony of the Tày and Nùng in Lạng Sơn.
Lẩu then or also called “Lẩu pựt” is organised in Lunar February and March. Lẩu then is also a ritual of religious character, signifies that the sorcerer brings the offerings to the Jade Emperor every year. Whenever a family has a sick person or prays for peace, it is necessary to invite a sorceress to hold a ceremony to treat diseases, pray for peace or release somebody of his run of bad luck.
Sorceress is also an artist, both playing guitar and singing. She wears then’s jacket and hat, and red or blue shoes. Their then kit includes: seal, brass bell, percussion, paper fan, satin bag, a towel as buffer for percussion and there must be a tính guitar and many ritual things such as bristled bamboo sticks, yin – yang bridge, banana trunk, flower house, house with dragons on its roof and misfortune house etc. to create the space of an imagination world.
Lẩu then is the most solemn ritual in then cultural activities, a festival of sorceresses which is held once every few years.
+ Ritual tools of sorcerer:
In the exhibition complex of folk beliefs, the Museum also introduces a collection of a sorcerer’s ritual tools of the Nùng Phàn slình ethnic group.
When carry out a ceremony, apart from wearing hat and jacket, sorcerer also uses ritual tools which they think to have deities’ imprints and governing such as the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha Seal bestowed by the Jade Emperor to sorcerer to stamp on the petitions sent to the Heaven in funeral and offering ceremonies. Only when the Jade Emperor sees the seal, he acknowledges and blesses people with good health and a bumper crop. However, only a highly able sorcerer is conferred a seal and allowed to stamp on petitions.
A wooden dog, considered as a heaven dog, is responsible for protecting the sorcerer from disturbing devils when he carries out rituals in a funeral.
A bell is reserved for highly able and high rank sorcerer to invite the Jade Emperor and deities to the ceremony.
A sword is used to fight with devils when they come to disturb a ceremony.
Castanets are used to inform every body about a funeral, at the same time to call upon spirits to attend the festival so that the deceased would be happy.
A shaking bell is used to make sound for the deceased’s soul would be happy in meeting with ancestors, at the same time to keep the family safe.
A controlling card is used to ask permission from the heaven to carry out a ritual, at the same time to call upon and inform the deities about the earthly ceremony.
An yin-yang card is a guarantee to indentify the deities’s recognision. Generally when praying to Jade Emperor and deities for something, if the card faces upward (Yang) in two cases of praying, it means that they laugh or scold. If in two cases, the card upturns (Yin) twice or one time Yang and the other Yin, it would be alright.
Clarinet: is used in funeral to inform villagers about this ritual, at the same time as the weeping for the deceased in stead of the weeping of the family people.
+ Pictures of Ten magistrates of the nether world
“Ten magistrates of the nether world” is a set of worshipping pictures used in funeral ritual of Tào sorcerer of the Tày, Nùng and Sán Chay. When there is a dead person in a family, apart from the setting up of an alter and putting up pictures of three gods by the sorcerer, there should be the pictures worshipping “Ten magistrates of the nether world” and “Breaking jail” for the Tào sorcerer to carry out ritual to guide the dead person’s soul crossing 10 hell palaces’ gates to meet with his ancestors.
10 pictures of “Ten magistrates of the nether world” describe 10 kings governing the hell. Each king leads a palace to judge the services and crimes of the newly died people. It is believed that after death, the deceased’ soul is received by impermanent devils to bring to the first King of Hell Tần Quảng Vương’s palace. At here, there are books recording the people’s life-spans to show whether they die on schedule. Then there are books recording people’s good deeds or crimes they had done when still alive to judge their merits and sins. Here, there is a strict mirror to show good deeds and crimes. Those who had done good deeds would enjoy good fortune, and those who are sinfull would be punished through 8 jails, starting from the second palace of the King of Hell Sở Giang Vương to the third one of Tống Đế Vương, fourth – Ngũ Quan Vương, fifth – Diêm La Vương, sixth – Biện Thành Vương, seventh – Thái Sơn Vương, eighth – Bình Đẳng Vương, ninth – Đô Thị Vương, and reincarnate in the tenth palace of Chuyển Luân Vương.
Thus, the contents of the pictures reflect the ideas of encouraging people to do good, and punishing the cruel according to Buddha’s teachings. These aim at educating people on morality and personality, being inclined to the good.
+ Folk music of Tày – Thái group.
Musical instruments of ethnic groups of the Tày – Thái language family are unique and special. Most typical is tính guitar of the Tày, drum with glaze-terracotta barrel of the Sán Chay, Khèn bè instrument of the Thái, Lào and Lự. Moreover, there are also two-string violin, cymbals, castanets, bell and drum used in ethnic rituals and funeral.
+ Land puppet of the Tày in Thẩm Rộc, Định Hoá District, Thái Nguyên Province:
Land puppet in Thẩm Rộc belongs to the rod puppet style. In general, a puppet guild has 12 members to control the puppets by bamboo rods and strings with music accompaniment. The puppets are decorated and wear clothes like characters on the stage. The performance is accompanied by reading explanation. Land puppet is performed mainly for entertainment and education. The contents of plays are the praising of prominent virtuous and kind-hearted people. Every year, on Lunar January 10, in Lồng tồng Festival, the Tày in Định Hóa always have land puppet show to pray for good fortune, good harvest and wish one another a happy, healthy and wealthy New Year.