Monday, April 7, 2014

H’mong: The pride and identity of Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa is famous for its wonderful mountainous sceneries and its traditional culture of ethnic minorites. Coming to Sapa, you will have chances to see how local minorities live in Vietnam. One of the largest ethnic minorities in Vietnam is the Hmong Tribe. Hmong originally means “free people”. The Hmong minority is divided in several subgroups. It is very easy to identify them, just by looking at the color of the clothes they wear. People who live in the region still use their traditional clothes (young and old people alike). The Hmong women and their children carry on the tradition of wearing the heavy native costumes of their ancestors, complete with leggings that are worn at all times of the year, including Vietnam’s hot summer months.

The Black Hmong

The Black Hmong are by far the largest ethnic minority group in and around Sapa and you’ll see them walking between Sapa and the surrounding villages. They’re called Black Hmong because they’re dressed in dark clothing dyed black with indigo. All of the Black Hmong I encountered were quick to smile and laugh even when I was not buying anything from them. You will see lots of Black Hmong people at Sapa and they are very skilled at selling souvenirs (in fact some of them speak good English). You will also get to visit their villages during trekking (Cat Cat Village, the nearest to Sapa belongs to the Black Hmong).

The Red Hmong (Red Dzao)

The Red Hmong dress in black as well, but the women wrap up their hair in a red scarf decorated with silver accessories. There are two beliefs about this tribe. The first is that you can know how rich a woman is by the size of her scarf. The other is that the women have to shave their hair and eyebrows because it is their basis or standard of beauty. They are less populated compared to the Black Hmong people and tend to be more shy.

Sapa is like no other place I’ve visited in Vietnam. It is a visually spectacular, magical place – with its endless hills of terraced rice fields and concentration of hill tribe ethnic minorities whose colorful traditional clothing beautifully accent the landscape. It doesn’t feel like people are wearing traditional attire just to please tourists and their cameras… Their dress is a matter of pride and identity.