With over 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, there's many interesting & varied traditions behind weave artisans’ textiles & the culture.
15 September 2015| Last updated on 29 June 2017
I personally, learned about these traditions after going on a 2-day trek in the northern mountains of Vietnam, living in Saigon for a year, and working with these artisans directly, by incorporating their intricate textiles into my own sustainable handbag designs. Unfortunately, a lot of these communities are slowly losing their unique heritage, due to modernization and the lack of job opportunities. That is why culture preservation is so important, and raising awareness about the need for local and global support is critical to their continuance.
Here are 3 beautiful ethnic groups I work with, and what I have learned about their cultural traditions.
This group of people live in the northern mountains of Vietnam, and were my first encounter with local ethnic groups there. My first impression was that they were very friendly, and spoke English more fluently compared to the rest of the country, due to their constant interaction with tourists in Sapa. A lot of the younger generation are turning to eco-tourism as trek guides to sustain their families, whereas previous generations relied solely on farming and handicraft sales.
You can recognise Black Hmong women by their dark clothing. They traditionally wear a black long-sleeve top and skirt. Instead of wearing a turban on their head, they wear a woven headscarf that is quite vibrant, and features various patterns.
Black Hmong people are still quite traditional with their textile making process; they grow their own hemp, dye it in indigo for weeks, and then weave the fibers together to make a long sheet of fabric. They also use a unique dyeing process called ‘batik’. This method involves the use of wax on some parts of the weave, which acts as a dye resistant layer, in order to create their artistic patterns. Once the wax is applied creatively, the weave is dyed and finally the wax is boiled off, revealing the design.
You will find Cham people all throughout Vietnam. I have found this group of people to be the most modernised, but they have a strong awareness of the importance of preserving their culture for the next generations. If you go to My Nghiep Village in the South Central Coast Region of Ninh Thuan Province, you will find a culture centre that teaches you about their traditions and local community. I had the honour of touring around the town for a day with a young Cham guide. He also invited us back to his traditional Cham mud house for lunch, which he had just finished constructing with the help of his elders, who had knowledge on how the house should be made. His family is known for their artistic talents and for educating others on their culture.
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Traditionally, Cham people cultivated a variety of cotton plants, and grew mulberry leaves to feed their silkworms, so that they could produce their own silk. They spun their cotton and silk into fibers, and then dyed it in a wide variety of colours. Nowadays, Cham people prefer to buy their thread from the market. Their textiles are usually vibrantly coloured, featuring geometric patterns that represent what they see around them, such as trees, fruit and animal footprints. Since time has passed, they only wear their traditional clothes on holidays and special occasions, and Vietnamese clothes all the other days. Female costumes usually involve a colourful sarong, a top, a belt and a headscarf.
The Lu people are a very remote group, living up in the northern mountains of Vietnam, and are known for dyeing their teeth black using a black honey shrub and benzoin resin paste. As with the other two ethnic groups, girls start learning how to weave and make their traditional clothing at a young age. Along with the Black Hmong, the Lu people are very traditional in their textile-making process; they cultivate their own threads, dye them, weave the fibers together and then embroider on top of the textile. This process can take 3-6 months due to their intricate dyeing, weaving and embroidering techniques. Therefore, you can only buy vintage Lu weaves that were previously used by these women. I find that the most beautiful part is the embroidered details on the Lu skirts. I have used these in some of my handbag designs.
Their ensemble includes a tubular skirt with rhombic or diamond shapes, dark long-sleeve blouses with colourful weave embellishments, belts, and turbans wrapped around their heads many times.
Danica Ratte is a passionate sustainable lifestyle blogger who is interested in preserving ethnic weaving cultures in Vietnam. Also, if you are interested to learn more please read her blog.