The Lolo Ethnic Group in Vietnam

The Lolo Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Proper name: Lolo.

Other names: Mun Di, Di, Man Di, La La, Qua La, O Man, Lu Loc Man. 

Local groups: Flower Lolo and Black Lolo;

Population: 3,134 people. (1999 census).

Language: The Lolo language belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese language group (Sino-Tibetan language family), but is closer to the Burmese.

History: The Lolo appeared very early in the northern side of Ha Giang.

Production activities: The Lolo work mostly on wet fields and terraces. The main plants are sticky rice, regular rice, and corn. Raising cattle is fairly well-developed and profitable.

Diet: The Lolo grind corn into flour, then steam to eat it. There must be soup in every meal. They usually use wooden bows and spoons.

Clothing: Among Lolo women, there are some groups who wear shirts with round collars and buttoned up on the front. Others wear pullover shirts with square collars and trousers. Still others wear a short wrapped skirt outside, and leggings wrapped around their legs. Lolo clothing is adorned with decorative patterns made by different colorful cloths patched together. They also use flowered batik patterns made using bee's wax.

Housing: Depending on locales, the Lolo live in three different types of houses: single storey houses built on the ground, stilt houses, and houses that are a mixture of the two styles. The Lolo live in Dong Van, Meo Vac districts of Ha Giang province, Bao Lac district of Cao Bang province, and Muong Khuong district of Lao Cai province.

Transportation: The Lolo carry their goods in bamboo back-baskets. Children are also carried on the back while their parents are working or on trips.

Social organization: The Lolo lives permanently in concentrated villages. They have a tight community structure. There are more than 30 family lineages. Each of them usually assembles in one village, worships common ancestors, and has its own cemetery which is located in a section of the community one. The Lolo prefer marriages within their kinship line, but also allow marriages to outsiders.

Marriage: The Lolo custom on marriage is highly commercial. The girl's family asks for expensive gifts from the groom's family (silver, wine, meat, etc). After the wedding, the bride lives with her husband's family. The son of an aunt could marry the daughter of an uncle, but never vice versa.

Birth: Women adhere to a strict diet when pregnant, and also are not allowed to do certain activities. They give birth at home with the help of a midwife. Twelve days after the child is born, a naming ceremony is held. However, the name can be changed if the child is often sick, or cries too much.

Funerals: There are some unique customs for Lolo funerals such as dancing, fighting, reconciliations, etc. It is said that vestiges of former head hunting still can be seen during the funeral rites when someone carries a cloth bag which is decorated with a drawing of a-human head and contains a piece of wood or dried calabash.

Artistic activities: The Lolo are one of the few ethnic groups that still uses the kettledrum for daily activities. The kettledrum is the Lolo's traditional instrument that is closely connected with the legend of flood. The story says that once upon a time, there was a big flood and water rose to the sky. God saved two siblings by putting them into two kettledrums - the sister into a big one, the younger brother into the smaller one. They were kept alive because the kettledrums floated. After the flood receded, the two stayed up in the mountains, and eventually became husband and wife and formed a family. They were ancestors of the Lolo people. As an instrument, the kettledrum is used only in funerals to create the rhythms for traditional community dances. The beliefs in Yin and Yang, and in reproduction, are, perhaps, best displayed through the playing combination of both male and female drums together. The two drums are hung facing each other on a shelf that is placed near the deceased's feet. The drummer stands between these two drums, and uses both ends of the drumsticks to beat on both drum heads. Only single men or men whose wives are not pregnant can play these drums.

The kettledrum isn't only a precious possession and a unique instrument, but it is also a religious instrument. Through the sound of kettledrum, the deceased's spirit can finds its way back to the place of its ancestors. The kettledrum is played only for funerals. Otherwise, it is buried under the ground, hidden in a clean, protected place.

Beliefs: The Lolo worship ancestors, parents, or basically any loved one who has died. On the altars, there are wooden statues whose faces are drawn with black charcoal. The souls play an important role in Lolo spiritual life.

Festivals: The Lolo celebrate Lunar New Year like the Chinese and the Vietnamese. There are also the New Rice festival, the double Five Festival (on 5th day of 5th lunar month), and the 5th of July festival.

Calendar: The Lolo don't have a written calendar, but an oral one. Each year is divided into 12 months, and each month matches with one animal.

Education: Around the 17th century, the Lolo had already developed a pictographic writing system with 140 signs. They put the signs together to express their thoughts. The letters were written on thin pieces of wood, on animal skins, or on thick rough papers. Nowadays, only a few Lolo families still keep these writings, which only a few can still read.


Tip added by Lanh Nguyen