Story: Winlinh
Photos: Son Tung

Discover the colorful beauty of Red Dao communities in the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark

Quan Ba is a mountainous district in Ha Giang province covered by the Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. This region is home to many ethnic minority groups, most of whom are Dao. The Red Dao, a subgroup of the Dao people in Quan Ba, have a unique culture with rituals and beliefs that add life to this seemingly desolate plateau.

Red Dao women favor many traditional accessories

Visitors to this mountainous region may enjoy heartwarming encounters with locals in bustling marketplaces, among verdant terraced rice fields, or beneath the glazed roofs of rustic cottages. Surrounded by serene mountains, the locals seem content with their simple and “slow living” lifestyle. The Red Dao are scattered to the four winds, and their communal activities are limited to a certain geographical range. They speak their own language, which they strive to pass on to future generations. They tend to choose in-laws from their community when marrying their children to preserve their language and customs.

A Red Dao woman

The Red Dao’s main occupations include working in their maize and rice fields, rearing farm animals, crafting silver jewelry, weaving fabric, embroidering, cultivating medicinal herbs, making agricultural equipment, and making incense. To facilitate trade, communication, and cultural exchange, the Red Dao frequently host open-air bazaars with neighboring ethnic groups in Trang Kim and Quan Ba. On market days, Red Dao people carry agricultural produce to market on their backs. Sometimes, they bring their farm animals. More notably, the women and girls wear colorful brocade dresses. These vibrant gowns flutter with each step, attracting everyone’s attention.

Silver jewelry

The Red Dao preserve their traditional heritage by wearing their traditional clothes. Because Red Dao girls are taught to sew by their mothers and grandmothers from a tender age, every Red Dao woman can make her own clothes and clothing for her family. Red Dao men wear plain and dark clothes. When the weather gets cold, they usually don berets and bright scarves. Women, on the other hand, dress in bright and intricately decorated clothing. They add many delicate decorative touches to their dress’s placket, sleeves, chest, and waist, and to their trousers’ hems. The most common decorative motifs are plants and flowers. Red Dao women typically wear dark clothing underneath, accentuated by intricate ornamental details such as long strips of fabric wrapped around their dazzling brocade skirts. As well as adding patterns to their chests, they wrap colorful beads around their waists. On special occasions, Red Dao women adorn their necks and hips with shiny silver jewelry. In terms of headgear, the women in this region often wear a round man and a brocade scarf with upward-pointing ends. They also wrap a pink or multi-colored tasseled scarf behind their back to complete their harmonious and stylish ensemble.

Red Dao people working beside a traditional house

Throughout the year, the Red Dao celebrate many events, such as the cap sac (coming-of-age) ceremony, the fire-dancing ceremony, the ma kho ceremony (commemoration of the recently departed), thunder abstinence day, tiger abstinence day, and fish catching day. The cap sac ceremony is a significant occasion for both the Dao and the Red Dao. After the cap sac ceremony, boys are considered old enough to participate in village affairs and be reunited with their ancestors when they die. The ceremony is restricted to males aged 10 and up and consists of numerous rituals performed by a shaman. The ceremony is followed by a celebration for not just the family of the newly-of-age boy but also the entire village.

As time gently courses through this region, Red Dao people diligently maintain their traditions, which are imbued with the spirit of their ancestors. Visitors returning to the city after spending time in Quan Ba may fondly recall Red Dao women’s colorful hems, like vibrant flowerbeds on the austere stone plateau.