Lu Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Lu Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Lables: Ethnic Groups, Lu ethnic group, Tay-Thai Group

Proper name: Lu, Thay, or Thay Lu

Other names: Phu Lu, Nhuon, Duon

Local groups: In Vietnam, there is only the Black Lu (Lu Dam) in Ban Hon village, Phong Tho district, Sin Ho (Lai Chau). This is to be differentiated from the White Lu (Lu Khao) in Sip Song Pan Na of China.

Population: 3,684 people (1999 census)

Language: The Lu language belongs to the Tay-Thai language group (Tai-Kadai language family).


History: The Lu has been in the Xam Mun area of Dien Bien province at least since the 11th or 12th century. Here, they had built the Xam Mun palace (Tam Van) and had cultivated many fields. In the 18th century, because of war, the Lu had to evacuate to many other places; a small group moved up to live in the Phong Tho Mountain, in Sin Ho.

Production activities: The Lu invented a traditional irrigation canal that brings water to their fields. They cultivate sticky rice, with the technique of sowing rice seeds twice a year. In some places, they are not yet accustomed to using green fertilizer, manure, and garbage to fertilize the field. They practice slash and burn agricultural methods, and they use the digging stick to make holes for seedlings, and to plough the fields -techniques which they learnt from the H'mong. Textile weaving is well-developed. They also make brocade with beautiful designs. Moreover, the Lu is famous for hammering swords. Gathering fruit, hunting, and especially fishing are common activities.

Diet: The Lu likes to eat sticky rice, foods made from fish, especially a salad dish made with raw fish. Pigs, water buffaloes, and cows are only killed on festival occasions; their meats are usually not for sale.

Clothing: Lu women wear button-up indigo shirts; their skirts are also made of black indigo cloth, decorated with an additional layer of embroidered designs. They wear silver necklaces with silver locks. On their heads, Lu women wear turbans, which are worn slanting to the left. The fronts of these headdresses are decorated with lengthwise patterns. Lu women also blacken their teeth and wear silver or brass bracelets. Men also wear black indigo clothes. Their shirts have braid cloth buttons, two pockets on the flaps, and one pocket on the left shoulder. On their trousers, from the knees down, there is decorative embroidery. They wear black turbans, and also blacken their teeth like the women. Men usually wear swords, not only for protection purpose, but also as a kind of accessory.

Housing: The Lu live in Phong Tho, Sin Ho, Dien Bien districts of Lai Chau province. They live in stilt houses with four layers of roof, which are lengthened to become verandas for storing looms and other weaving tools. There are bed covers, mattress, mosquito nets, and curtains in their houses; kitchens are in the middle of the house.

Transportation: They use carrying baskets, water buffaloes, and horses, to transport their goods.

Social organization: Neighborhoods plays the most important role in community relations. The Lu has the custom of helpings other families in communal work, such as when building new houses and during big occasions like weddings and funeral. Two family trees - Pu Da (paternal side) and Ta Nai (maternal side) - are the most important.

Marriage: The Lu encourage "opposite way marriage", which means a man's siblings or cousins could marry his wife's sibling or cousins. There is no coercion to marry. The couple will stay with the bride's family for 3 years, then move to live with the husband's family for 2 years before they could be in their own house on stilts. There are three steps in a marriage: "Meal preceding the evening": this is the entrance of the couple to their wedding chamber. "Meal to honor the newly married couple": a feast is held, and the groom's family bestows gifts to the bride's. Traditionally, a sword is a required gift. "Bring the bride home"

Birth: When the infant is one month old, a fortune teller is called and may will bring a wooden pen, a piece of white cloth, and a plate of China ink - all used to find a name for the child. The specialist may put a chicken egg on a rice bowl, and then sprinkle some rice seeds on the egg. After that, he counts the number of seeds to see if they are odd or even. If the number is as what he said, then that name will be given to the child. He writes the name on the white cloth, then give it to the parents to make birth certificate. Girls are often named Keo (Pearl), and boys are named Kham (Gold)...

Funerals: When there is someone who dies, family and relatives wear white turbans as a simple sign of mourning. A black water buffalo will be killed for a farewell ceremony to the deceased's spirit. The family keeps the coffin at home for 3 days, then hire 8 non-relatives to bring it to the ghosts' forest. They put the coffin down into a hole, but do not bury it in a grave. Everyone who attends the funeral has to take a bath before they can return to their own houses. Close paternal relatives of the dead are refrained from working for three days.

New Houses: The Lu avoids performing a new house ceremony in the middle of the day. After cleaning the new house, the owner invites four older men, who are non- relatives, to drink wine, which is put in four cups then put in a big pot in the middle of the house. A young man will come to the door, sit down and ask to buy the house. The old men will answer: "The owner is coming." In the mean time, the couples who own the house already stand at the stairs. The husband carries a sweep-net on his shoulder; the wife carries a shoulder pole with a cooking tripod on one side and a steaming pot on the other. Together- the husband leads and the wife follows - they will walk up the stairs and place the items mentioned above in the house. Following them are two young women holding two torches. A third girl stands at the top of the stairs with a vase of water to dampen the fire of the first torch. The girl with the second burning torch sets the fire in the kitchen. This fire has to be kept burning for 3 days and nights. The owner has to have a worshiping ceremony for his ancestors, with offerings that include a pig's head. The villagers are invited to share the meal and drink. Everyone will sing, to the accompaniment of the flute.

Beliefs: The Lu worship ancestors in a room called hong. This occurs once a year in January, according to the Lu calendar, which is about October of the lunar calendar. Ten candles are lighted around the meal that is bestowed on the altar. A man called chu dau (chau ho) will perform the worshiping. On January, there is a village worshiping ceremony called kieng ban (cam ban); a meal with 30 kilograms of pork that is held at the village's entrance and next to a river or a stream. On the 3rd of March, there is a ceremony to worship the sacred forest (dong cam) which includes the same type of meal. On the 6th of June, there is a feast with 60 kilograms of pork. After the man chu dau finishes the worshiping ritual, the whole village eats, drinks, plays tug of war, and sings along with the music of the flute. On this occasion, from the 3rd to the 9th, outside people are not allowed to come into the village; nor are villagers allowed to go outside.

Festivals: About 60 or 70 years ago (approximately 3 generations), the Lu still practiced some Buddhist rituals called bun, such as the New Year Festival (bun pi may), Splashing Water Festival (bun huat nam) in November, and a Shooting Firecracker Festival (bun bang phay) on February - March of the Lu's calendar.

Calendar: The Lu has their own calendar. January is in October of the lunar calendar.

Education: The Lu uses the Sanscrit alphabet. They use thorns or iron points to write legends and fairy tale stories on palm leaves. They also use a wooden pen with Chinese ink to write on white cloth. In the past, 7-8 year old children came to study with a monk called "chau hua"

Artistic activities: Lu singing (Khap Lu) occurs when a girl wears a red veil, to cover her face and sings with the flute, played by a boy. In the past, young couples sat on a mat for the whole night while singing.

Games: The Lu plays tug of war and throwing coins. Young men like to dance with swords.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen