The Lachi Ethnic Group in Vietnam

The Lachi Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Lables: Ethnic Groups, Kadai Group, Lachi ethnic group

Proper name: Cu Te.

Other names: Tho Den, Man, Xa.

Population: 7,863 people (1999 census).

Language: Lachi language belongs to the Kadai language group (Tai-Kadai language family), which is in the same language group as that of the Laha, Colao, and Pupeo people.

History: The Lachi are the longest inhabitants in Ha Giang, Lao Cai provinces.

Production activities: The Lachi are experts at cultivating land, working on step terraces, and wet rice cultivation. They harvest sticky rice and regular rice by two different kinds of sickles. While still in the field, they pound the rice stalks on wooden pipes to remove the grains which are gathered up and taken home for storage. They have three different kinds of terraced fields, and work them with tools such as the pointed stick, hoe, and plough. Other fields are reserved for planting indigo and cotton.

Diet: The Lachi have a unique way to steam rice. First, rice is cooked to boiling in a big wok, and then it is steamed in an earthen pot. When the rice is done, it is not dry and sticky, rather than wet. The Lachi have many ways of storing foods, but drying and salting meat are the most popular ways. Smoked water buffalo's skin is a particular delicacy for the Lachi.

The Lachi blacken their teeth as a sign of beauty. Young people like to have gold teeth as a kind of decorative accessory, or as a sign of being mature.

Clothing: Men wear long robes; each is made from five pieces of cloth. There is a row of buttons on the right underarm. They have long hair (often beyond shoulder length); they also wear turbans, and like to carry indigo bags around for tobacco, lighter, and other items. Women generally wear pants, only a few wear skirts. Their traditional clothing is comprised of a long dress with four panels, splits in front, and an embroidered bodice with a cloth belt. On festival occasions, Lachi women wear three long dresses, one on top of the other. Women like to wear long scarves that are three meters long. The favorite color is black indigo. Women wear earrings, and bracelets; men wear only bracelets. The traditional healer has his special clothes when he practices his worshiping ritual. It is a long and loose-fitting outfit, split at the front and back, with a silk belt. He also wears a big hat, secured with a string. In some of the rituals, he carries a big piece of dry water buffalo skin, or a straw hat.

Housing: The Lachi form villages on the hilly areas of Su Phi and Xin Man districts (Ha Giang province). The traditional Lachi house is a unique architectural mix of a stilt house, a house on the ground, and a storehouse-all built on a relatively small space. This combination of architectural styles is a unique cultural trait of the Lachi. Each house has two parts: the stilt section is the living quarters, and the ground-level section is the kitchen. The roof unites both sections.

When moving into a new house, the owner has to invite the ritual specialist to come to frighten away evil spirits. He does so by using three stems of reeds to sweep the four corners of the house, starting from the corner of the parents' area. If the owner already has an altar at his old house, it will be replaced and located where the head of the family would stay in the new house. In the first 13 days of staying in a new house, it is a Lachi custom to always have a fire burning in the hearth. This is said to bring good luck.

Transportation: The Lachi use a combination of transportation favored by the mountainous and the valley people. Women use baskets carried, on the back by means of a bamboo or cloth tump line that is wrapped around the forehead, something like a girdle, made from either bamboo or cloth. Men use tump lines also, but they also have two strings to carry burdens on their shoulders in a manner similar to the Hmong people. The Lachi also use the shoulder pole to carry two baskets. The Lachi straps their babies on their backs during trips or while working on the field. Water pipes are a popular way to convey water to the house or to somewhere near the residential area. From the water site, water is stored in bamboo cylinders which are one and a half meters long; then is carried back to the kitchen for later use.

Using horses to transfer goods is also popular.

Social organization: It is popular for a family of three generations, or for several couples to share a house together. There is a head person in each kin line to take care of all the ritual activities. This individual isn't viewed as a leader, only someone who knows how to conduct rituals. Various methods are used to choose this person, including reading the mystical signs of a chicken leg.

The Lachi name their children according to their father's name, following this formula: father's surname - the child's name - first name of the person who bears that name. Women with children are called following this formula: the mother - the name of the oldest child - name of her husband.

The custom of having adopted parents for infants is very popular. On the morning of the third day after the infant born, the parents put a red string on a bowl filled with water; the first person who comes into their house will be the child's adopted parents, and will name the child. If the infant cries too much, it will be considered that the name isn't suitable. In that case, a fortune teller will be called in to find another suitable family to adopt the child again.

Beliefs: The Lachi worship ancestors on holidays and festival occasions. Men worship up to three generations, women up to two generations. According to their custom, children will have to remember the anniversary day of their parents' death for their whole life. On those days, they can't plant anything new, can't borrow or lend money. It is considered not a good day for growing and flourishing.

There is an altar for each man in a family. Altars are put in a range as following: father, the youngest son, than the next youngest, and lastly the oldest son. Each altar is only considered as completed after 3 times of conducting worshiping rituals.

Education: General knowledge and popular experience are orally passed down from generation to generation. There is a rich treasure of legends and fairy tales that explain to young people the wonders of natural and cultural phenomenon.

Artistic activities: On the New Year occasion, girls and boys sing duets together, to the accompaniment of a three- stringed instrument and a kind of clarion. Drums and gongs are also very popular.

Games: On Lunar New Year, young men and women gather at a big field to play shuttlecock, spinning top, and swing. They also play swing on the August Festival. Children like to play a game that uses bamboo tubes for target shooting.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen