Bru - Van Kieu Ethnic Group in Vietnam - What You Need to Know

Bru - Van Kieu Ethnic Group in Vietnam - What You Need to Know

Proper name: Bru, according to some researchers.

Other names: Bru and Van Kieu

Population: 40,132 people

Local groups:  Van Kieu, Tri, Khua and Ma Cong.


Language: The Bru language belongs to the Mon-Khmer language group (of the Austro-Asiatic language family), which is close to languages spoken by the Tay Oi and Cotu people. A new Bru writing system is now emerging, which uses Latin transcription. Some vocabulary and phrases are different between certain sub-groups.



The Bru are believed to be the most permanent residents in the Truong Son region.


Production activities: 

The Bru lives mainly on widen fields, using simple tools such as the axe, the cutlass, and the rice harvesting knife. They practice slash-and-burn agriculture, using a digging stick to make holes in the ground for sowing seeds. Weeding and rice harvesting are done by hand. Multi-crop and rotating cast crops are grown each year between March and October. Apart from paddy, the Bru also grow manioc, gourd, banana, egg-plant, pineapple, sweet potato, etc. Forests and streams are the two main sources for additional food and other benefits. Almost every family raises buffalo (later cows), pigs, chickens, and dogs. Local handicrafts are less developed. Meanwhile, the Bru engage in barter trade primarily with the Viet people as well as with Laotians.



The Bru-Van Kieu enjoys eating roasted meat. Soup usually made with a combination of vegetables, rice, and fish or frog meat. For everyday meals, ordinary rice is often eaten with the hands. On special occasions, sticky rice is cooked in a fresh bamboo tube. Uncoiled water and can (pipe) wine are the most popular drinks (although nowadays distilled spirit is becoming more and more popular). Men and women smoke cigarettes and pipes made from earth or the le plant (a sort of bamboo shoot)



According to Bru customs, the men wear loin cloths and the women wear dresses with a sleeves blouse or pullover. The Bru buy textiles from Laos. Dressing in the style of the Viet people is becoming more and more popular, with cloth wrappers still being worn. In the past, people used to make clothing from the fibre of tree bark. People adorn themselves with chains, necklaces, and earrings. Formerly, Bru men and women wore their hair wrapped in a bun or chignon on the top of their heads. For an unmarried girl, the chignon of a married woman is generally at the center top of the head.



The Bru-Van Kieu lives in the Truong Son-Tay Nguyen region in the west of Quang Tri, Thua Thien_Hue and Quang Binh. Each village is a residential community. Each family owns a house, built on stilts, with the heart and kitchen placed on the ground level. The Bru-Van Kieu avoid sleeping in a direction that is across the width of the house, in the sub-groups of Tri, Khua and Ma Coong, the house is divided into smaller bedrooms for the aged parents.



The Bru uses many kinds of woven back-baskets, with the straps being tied around the shoulders of the carrier. The multi-purpose back-basket and the carrier inseparable like the human body and its shadow.


Social organization:

Villagers, who are of different family lineages, live in harmony, with land plots (even fallow land) being divided for each family. The eldest person in the village plays an important role in the village’s life. The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, but there is little difference in the standard of living at the village level. Valuables are counted in gongs, pots, cooking pots and buffalo, etc. Human exploitation or servitude is uncommon.



Traditionally, the bride is brought to her husband and the wedding is organized by the bridegroom’s family. Customary wedding gifts are the sword and a bronze cooking pot. After the wedding, and once the couple has sufficient economic resources, they hold a “second wedding” called Khoi ceremony, where the wife is officially regarded as a member of her husband’s family. According to the customs, cross-marriages within a family lineage is encouraged, such as between the aunt’s son and the uncle’s daughter, between the widow and her dead husband’s brother, and vice versa. In addition, if a woman in lineage A is betrothed to a man in linage B, lineage B is no longer able to offer women in marriage to men of lineage A.



Pregnant women must abstain from eating the meat of hunted animals and from walking over a tree log that lies across the road. Bru women usually deliver at home, helped by a mid-wife. The baby is named after three months; the name must nor coincide with the names of the dead members of the family, but only bear a similarity in sound or syllable.



According to Bru customs, the dead person is placed across the house floor, with the feet pointing to the windows. In the sub-groups of Khua and Marriage Coong, the deceased is laid along the floor, with the feet pointing to the main door. The funeral is often held two or three days later, and the deceased is buried at the village’s common graveyard. The coffin, made of a kind of soft wood, has a cover. In the past, the deceased used to be wrapped in bark or a bamboo-woven sheet. The burial place is determined by dropping an egg onto the place, which is acceptable if the egg breaks. Before the burial, food is put into the deceased’s mouth, and the deceased is buried together with plenty pf personal belongings, food, and the seeds of cane, corn, and Indian taro, etc.



The Bru attach great importance to ancestor worship. They believe that the embodiments of their dead love one’s souls exist in such objects as a fragment of a pot or a bowl. Etc. in some places, people believe in the god of their own fortunes: each member of the family has a bowl to his or her own fate, placed on a common altar. People also believe in various Yang (God) such as god of paddy plants, and mountain, the land and earth, the river, the tree and the kitchen, etc. the genie or protective spirit of the wife’s family is also worshipped by the husband-in-law.



The Bru perform different rituals in an attempt to harvest bumper crops. These rights are connected to specific stage of agricultural production, such as clearing the field, sowing the seeds, and harvest. Sowing seeds, in particular, is organized as major festivals of the village. The life of a Bru is accompanied by serials of rituals: birth, sickness, marriage, death…The most important event is the buffalo sacrificing ceremony. Tet is celebrated in villages at different times, usually after the rice has been harvested and threshed.



Their calendar is made based on the position of them moon. The Bru identify days of good luck (the 4th, 7th, 9th of the lunar month) and bad luck (30th and 1st of the lunar month). Each year, the agricultural calendar adopted by the Bru comprises 10 months, followed by holidays, before entering into the next crop cycle.


Artistic activities:

The Bru preserves a large number of old tales about the origin of local family lineages, peoples, and orphans, etc. Folk singing is popular, such as Oat (alternative chants between men and women); Prdoak, songs of greetings; Xuot, songs of public occasions; Roai tol, Roai trong, sad sung stories; and Adang kon, the lullaby. When there are burials and buffalo sacrifice festivals, songs are often accompanied by dances. The most popular musical instruments are: gongs, drums, string instruments (achung, plua, talu), and wind instruments (aman, taral, kho lui and pi), etc.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen