1. Reasons for choosing this issue
Vietnamese culture is the culture of “diversity in unity ". It is the convergence of cultural
values of the 54 ethnic groups living in the territory of Vietnam. During their history and
development, each group has created typical traditional cultural values for themselves.
Each ethnic group has their own cultural values; and through history these cultural values
become their cultural identities, contributing to the multi-nuanced culture of Vietnam.
Cultural identity is one out of three criteria to determine the ethnic structure in Vietnam.
So, the existence of each group is attached with their cultural characters. The loss of the
cultural values of a nation will gradually lead to the disappearance of that nation.
Particularly, in the context of current integration, the issue of national cultures is paid
more and more attention. An urgent need is that to integrate does not mean to dissolve the
culture. We integrate with the international trends, but still reserve our traditional national
values. National values are our cultural characters. Vietnam cultural characters are the
cultural values of every ethnic group living on the territory of Vietnam, in particular the
Kinh people and 53 ethnic minorities. The research and studies on Vietnamese characters
can not be separated from studying the cultural characters of each of the 54 peoples in
Our Party and Government also attach great importance to conserving and promoting
cultural values of ethnic groups. In 1991, in the "Platform for national construction in the
period of transition to socialism" the Party has stated to respect for the interests of
cultural traditions, languages, customs and beliefs of the peoples, and at the same time, to
reserve and promote moral, ethic, aesthetic values and the cultural and artistic heritages
of every people.
In the huge family of Vietnam’s ethnic groups, San Diu people, also known as Son Dzao
people (Dzao people in the mountains), mainly live in the provinces of Quang Ninh, Hai
Duong, Bac Giang, Thai Nguyen, Tuyen Quang , Yen Bai, etc. Having immigrated to
Vietnam and settled in Thai Nguyen for just about 3 centuries, but they still reserve their
available cultural values, together with other groups’ cultures they have absorbed
simultaneously, to create their own tradition cultural characters.
It is affirmed that life cycle rites are the profound expression for ethnic culture characters,
especially spiritual, psychological life and customs of each group. Besides, these are
exceptional cultures well reserved and hardly changed for a long time, because they
themselves contain meaningful humane values, which is ground for prosperity of every
group’s culture. Every San Diu person, from birth till death, goes though their group’s
life cycle rites, which helps building their cultural values. Studying their life cycle rites is
a must if we want to study their cultural values.
The major milestones in each person’s life are marked by following rituals: marriage,
giving birth and funeral, which are the turning points of his (her) life. They enable
development inside each person in accordance with natural laws and under impact of
social ones. The issue of studying San Diu people’s cultures in general and the issue of
explaining the changes in life cycle rites in particular remain unsolved.
Thinking of that we decided to choose to do research on this issue “Cultural changes in
marriage and funeral customs of San Diu people in Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen
Province” with which we aims to show significant changes in marriage and funeral
customs of the local San Diu People, firstly to contribute to the study of cultural
characters of ethnic minorities in Vietnam, and finally to make ground for the study of
Vietnamese cultural characters.
We hope that this research upon completion will help understanding more of San Diu
People’s culture, as well as cultures of all the ethnic groups in Vietnam; and basing on
that to propose suitable policies about preserving and promoting cultural values of
marriage and funeral customs, two of the life cycle rites of San Diu People in Phu Binh
District, Thai Nguyen Province in particular and San Diu People all around the country in
2. Background information on this issue
In the last few years, the trend to study and research on traditional ethnic cultures has
become more and more popular. Although the ethnic minorities only cover about 13%
total population, each of them owns unique culture and customs, which creates the
national diversified-but-unified culture, the progressive and well reserved culture of
The San Diu ethnic group in Vietnam is also an interesting issue which has been
attracting many ethnologists and writers. There has been many deep researches done on
their culture published into books or writing on magazines.
The book Nguoi San Diu o Viet Nam written by Ma Khanh Bang, published in 1983, is an
overview picture of life of San Diu people in Vietnam. The author has researched and
presented a general overview of the San Diu people: the name, foundation and
development history, as well as the social organization, material and spiritual cultures,
and their tradition customs which make up their own cultural values. He concludes that
San Diu group is a minority who continuously absorbs other groups’ cultures, but still
keeps in mind that they are a people.
Writer Diep Trung Binh, in Phong Tuc va Nghi Le Chu Ky Doi Nguoi cua Nguoi San Diu
o Viet Nam (2005), describes in details most customs of San Diu People during their life
cycle from birth to death. Besides, he also shows his opinions about their cultural values
and changes in these values shown in their life cycle rites.
In Tri Thuc Dan Gian trong Chu Ky Doi Nguoi San Diu o Viet Nam, published by
National Culture Press in 2011, Diep Trung Binh also mentions cultural values of the San
Diu people through their folk knowledge in giving birth, raising children, growing up,
marriage and funeral.
He also collects, studies and translates San Diu people’s folk songs in their everyday life
and corresponding singing in weddings. All is published in the book Dan Ca San Diu by
National Culture Press in 1987.
The book “Cac Dan Toc It Nguoi o Viet Nam (Cac Tinh Phia Bac)”also gives a general
overview of the San Diu people in Vietnam. The authors briefly describe history of the
people and the living cultures, including material cultures in their houses, costumes, food,
and spiritual cultures in their rituals like marriage and funeral, etc.
“Dan Toc San Diu o Bac Giang”, written by Ngo Van Tru and Nguyen Xuan Can (main
editor), by National Culture Press, Hanoi, 2003, is a full picture of San Diu people in Bac
Giang, presenting in details from history, name, living territory, etc., to traditional
economic activities, food, traditional costumes, rituals and customs related to life cycle.
The author Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, in his book “Van Hoa Truyen Thong San Diu o Tuyen
Quang”, published in 2011, also gives the most general overview of the history of this
people, as well as their residence and cultural identities in Tuyen Quang Province.
These above mentioned researches provide a useful theoretical ground and comparative
object for me to objectively study the cultural changes of the San Diu minority in Phu
Binh through their customs of marriage and funeral.
Dr. Nguyen Thi Que Loan has deeply studied the eating habits of the people, and
reflected the result in her doctorial thesis “Tap Quan An Uong cua Nguoi San Diu o Thai
Nguyen”. This thesis discusses in details about the traditional sources of their foods, their
traditional methods of preparing foods and drinks, as well as changes of these customs
when the people exchange and learn from other groups.
Related to the above issue, Dr. Nguyen Thi Que Loan also wrote a post on the Ethnology
Magazine, “Bien Doi Trong Tap Quan An Uong cua Nguoi San Diu Tinh Thai Nguyen”.
Researcher Le Minh Chinh had a study on San Diu People in Thai Nguyen majoring in
medical aspect called “Thuc Trang Thieu Mau o Phu Nu San Diu Trong Thoi Ky Mang
Thai tai Huyen Dong Hy Tinh Thai Nguyen va Hieu Qua cua Bien Phap Can Thiep”.
Dam Thi Uyen and Nguyen Thi Hai wrote “Tin Nguong Cu Tru Cua Nguoi San Diu o
Thai Nguyen” on the Nation and Times Magazine, number 89, 2006. The post mentioned
their social organization and spiritual views in their residing customs.
Also on the Nation and Times Magazine, number 87, 2006 there was a post by Nguyen
Thi Mai, titled “Le Hoi Cau Mua cua Nguoi San Diu”, showing us about the people’s
spiritual viewpoints in season and weather.
The ethnologist Chu Thai Son wrote the book “Dan Toc San Diu”, published by Kim
Dong Press in 2011, to supply for the programme “Books supplied by the States for the
children in remote or mountainous area”. It briefly introduce San Diu minority group in
Vietnam in aspects of history, working and living habits, traditional customs, mental life
and present living conditions.
The above mentioned works reflect a long history of studying San Diu people’s culture in
Vietnam in general and in each area in detailed. However, researching on culture of San
Diu group in Phu Binh - Thai Nguyen in general and studying the cultural changes in
their marriage and funeral customs in particular are still mostly left unattended. Thus, the
above mentioned works will help me a lot in my studying and clarifying the cultural
changes in the marriage and funeral customs of San Diu group in Phu Binh - Thai
3. Purposes, objects and scope of the research
3.1. Purposes of the research
This thesis “Cultural changes in marriage and funeral customs of San Diu people in
Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province” aims to research and learn how the cultural
values of San Diu group in Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province are reflected in
some life cycle rites, basing on which to propose suitable policies about preserving and
promoting traditional cultural values of San Diu ethnic group in Vietnam in general, and
in the researched area in particular.
- Marriage customs and funeral rituals are related to people’s viewpoints on their spirit,
universe and life. Thus, researching on changes of these fields is an approach to San Diu
people’s viewpoints on marriage and funeral.
- Researching on changes in marriage and funeral customs in their life cycle rites plays an
important role in building the local cultural life. Thanks to this, some proposals to
promote good cultural values and to remove existing bad rituals from their spiritual life.
3.2. Objects and scopes of the research
- Objects of the research are major changes in marriage and funeral customs of San Diu
ethnic minority in Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province, and the causes of these
changes. The research bases on the comparison of the present customs with the ones in
the past, through which the cultural values in their rituals and their relationship, among
family members and among the public are clearly exposed.
- Scopes of the research:
In term of space: The research is done in Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province, with
a focus on the two communes Ban Dat and Tan Khanh, where there is the highest density
of San Diu ethnic people.
In term of time: The research on cultural characteristics of San Diu ethnic group in Phu
Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province from the past to present in the comparative
4. Theoretical bases and research methods
- Theoretical bases
The thesis is written basing on the dialectical and historical materialist perspectives of
Marxism - Leninism, Ho Chi Minh Thoughts, and perspectives of our States and Party on
the issues of ethnic groups and their cultures. Accordingly, the research always
approaches to the materials and phenomena in their constant movements in space and
This thesis also inherits the research achievements, theoretical bases and methodology of
the local ethnologists.
- Research methods
The most important method is ethnographic fieldwork survey, in which direct interviews
with individuals and groups are made, and, at the same time, observing, writing, video
and sound recordings are realized in the two mentioned communes (Tan Khanh and Ban
Dat) of Phu Binh District. Besides, other used methods are document studying,
interdisciplinary method combining ethnology, cultural study, history, sociology,
comparison, contrast, etc.
- Material resource
In order to complete this thesis, we have gathered information from different sources:
survey, ethnographic field trips; talking with ethnologists; studying documents, articles,
and other press about the San Diu group, their life cycle rites and other groups’ in
5. Contribution of the thesis
- To contribute to the source of field trip survey, through which we clearly see the
changes in marriage and funeral customs of San Diu ethnic group in Phu Binh District,
Thai Nguyen Province from the past to present.
- To make a systematic research in details on the two important existing customs in life
cycle rites of San Diu ethnic group in Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province, and the
changes in each field through time.
- To help studying and preserving good traditional cultural values of San Diu ethnic
group in Vietnam in general and in Phu Binh District, Thai Nguyen Province in
- The research result will help building a scientific basis for cultural, educational and
social policies, in which an essential is preserving the good traditional cultural values,
and discontinuing the pessimistic and costly rituals which limit the development of
people’s awareness and society. This is importantly related to building a new cultural
living style in the public in the period of national industrialization and modernization.
6. Layout of the thesis
Besides the Introduction and Conclusion, the thesis includes three chapters:
Chapter 1: General geographic information of Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen Province
and the San Diu ethnic group.
Chapter 2: Traditional characters and changes of marriage and funeral customs of San
Diu ethnic group in Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen Province
Chapter 3: Some proposals to preserving and promoting cultural values of marriage and
funeral customs of San Diu ethnic group in Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen Province.
Chapter 1: GENERAL GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION OF PHU BINH DISTRICT THAI NGUYEN PROVINCE AND THE SAN DIU ETHNIC GROUP
1.1. Geographic location and natural conditions
1.1.1. Geographic location
In Ly Dynasty, the nowadays Phu Binh District was called Tu Nong District, Thai
Nguyen Territory (Chau Thai Nguyen). In Minh Dynasty it was in Thai Nguyen District
(Phu Thai Nguyen). In Le Dynasty, it was in Thai Nguyen Province (Thai Nguyen thua
tuyen), which was then renamed into Ninh Soc (Ninh Soc thua tuyen).
At the beginning of the 20th century, the French governor general in Indochina renamed it
into Phu Binh District (phu Phu Binh).
At the time right before the August 1945 Revolutionary, Phu Binh District (phu Phu
Binh) consisting 9 towns, 47 communes, 7 villages and 1 ward, was one of the 7 districts
(phu, huyen, chau) of Thai Nguyen Province.
March 25th, 1948, the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam issued the
Decree 148/SL about removing the terms “phu”, “chau”, “quan” from provincial
administrative naming, and using the only term “huyen” for the division which is larger
than a commune and smaller than a province. From that time on, it has been officially
called Phu Binh District1 (huyen Phu Binh) [22, p. 6].
Today Phu Binh District consists of 21 administrative divisions including 20 communes
and 1 town (Tan Khanh, Ha Chau, Tan Hoa, Dong Lien, Luong Phu, Duong Thanh, Tan
Thanh, Bao Ly, Nha Long, Tan Kim, Dao Xa, Tan Duc, Xuan Phuong, Thanh Ninh, Kha
Son, Uc Ky, Ban Dat, Diem Thuy, Nga My, Thuong Dinh and Huong Son Town) which
are divided into 315 villages and 4 community groups. Phu Binh District has 7
communes recognized as mountainous ones.
Phu Binh District was in between the northern latitudes 21023' and 21035', eastern
longitudes 105051' and 106002'.
It borders Dong Hy District to the North and Northwest, Pho Yen District and Thai
Nguyen City to the Southwest and West, Yen The District (Bac Giang Province) to the
East, and Hiep Hoa District (Bac Giang) to the South.
Phu Binh District is the farthest southern point of Thai Nguyen Province. It is not far
from Thai Nguyen City (28 kilometers from district center to city center), Gang Thep
industrial zone, Hanoi Capital, and conveniently located on the national traffic roads, so it
is very easy and quick for its market economy and the social and economic exchanges
with these centers to develop, which is an important ground advantage for Phu Binh
District to move forward rapidly and firmly in the time of industrialization and
modernization in this 21st century.
1.1.2. Natural conditions
Total area of the district is 249.36 km2 in which the largest section is used for agricultural
purposes: 13,845.93 ha (55.52% total area) [30, p. 1].
- Topography: the average gradient of about 0.04% decreases from Northeast to
Southwest; the average height difference is 14m, the lowest one of 10m is in Duong
Thanh Commune. The highest peak is on Bop Pass at 250m high above sea level.
In general its topographic features include being comparatively flat with some low and
slightly sloping downward-bow-shaped hills of 100 meters high at most. The area with
sloping degree lower than 80 is majority (67.56% total area), which is an advantage for
developing agriculture, especially growing food crops.
- Climate and hydrology: Locating under the Tropic of Cancer, Phu Binh District owns
the monsoon tropical climate (Phu Binh District is in the hot area of the province).
Besides, as its location is in the Northeast Vietnam, it features the typical climate of this
area where the monsoon can easily be caught.
+ The annual average temperature is 23.10C - 24.40C; the difference between the hottest
and the coldest months is 13.70C.
+ The annual average rainfall is 2000-5000 mm; the highest rainfall is on August and the
lowest in January.
+ The annual total time of sunlight is about 1206-1570 hours.
+ The annual average humidity is 81-82%.
+ Winds: in Summer Southeast breeze is prevailing; but in Winter with the Northeast
monsoon, the weather is cold and dry, causing great troubles for people’s working.
The fact that Phu Binh District is in warm climate area is an advantage for agriculture,
forestry, and local residents’ life. It enables the development of a stable diverse
ecosystem in general, and agriculture and forestry in particular.
- River system: Phu Binh District has the rich water supply of two rivers and three small
The Cau River, a river in the system of Thai Binh rivers, derives in Cho Don District Bac Kan Province. It runs through several districts such as Bach Thong, Phu Luong, Vo
Nhai, then runs in northwest - southeast direction to Thai Nguyen City, Phu Binh District,
Pho Yen District and Bac Giang Province. Its part in Phu Binh District is 29 kilometers
long, starting from Thac Huong Dam (Dong Lien Commune), running through 9 other
communes and finally entering Pho Yen District in Cha Commune. The average width of
the river is 120 meter. This river is a quite convenient waterway and a rich source of
water for farming.
The Dao River (also known as Mang River) which derives from Thac Huong Dam (Dong
Lien Commune) runs through nine communes with the total length of 31 kilometers
before entering Bac Giang Province and joining the Thuong River. This river is an
important part of the huge irrigation system supplying water for 1800 hectares of farms in
Phu Binh District and thousands of farms in Hiep Hoa, Tan Yen and Yen The Districts Bac Giang Province.
Phu Binh District also has three main small streams deriving from northeast area running
through Ban Dat, Dao Xa, Tan Khanh, Tan Kim and Tan Thanh Communes and falling
into the Cau River.
Such river system has made it much easier to develop farming in Phu Binh District.
1.2. Social and economic situation
Local residents in Phu Binh District mainly live on agriculture. The farming land area is
13,845.93 hectares of which 10,085.14 hectares is used for annual plants, 2,296.55
hectares for gardens, 1,060.43 hectares for perennial trees [32, p.1, 2]. With such a
potential and hard-working people with rich producing experience, Phu Binh District has
the right conditions for agricultural development. In addition to food crops, vegetables,
Phu Binh District also has 400.8 hectares of water surface for aquaculture. Although
agriculture still faces much troubles, and depends on the nature, Phu Binh District has
been considered to be a granary, a rich labor force and a rich natural resource of Thai
Besides agriculture, in Phu Binh District there are many handicrafts, especially pottery
making in Lang Ta Village, and rattan knitting in many villages in Diem Thuy, Thuong
Dinh communes, etc.
Because its location and transportation are convenient for exchange of goods, especially
for supplying foods for markets of Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Bac Ninh and Hanoi, so
commerce plays an important role in the local economy. Phu Binh District has some big
markets near main roads such as Don Market, Cau Market, Tan Duc Market, Hanh
Market, etc., which are the exchanging points for nearby regions. Huong Son Town is
more and more widen and crowded, attracted a large number of residents coming to open
Phu Binh people and Cell of Communist Party have well performed the reforms initiated
and led by Vietnam Communist Party (1986) through the Party Congresses (from the
Ninth Congress (1986) to the Fourteenth Congress (2005-2010)) and obtained great
achievements in every fields and gradually made right use of local potentials. In 2011,
although Phu Binh District people and government faced the same difficult challenges as
other parts of the country, they have gained significant results in realizing socioeconomic development tasks, such as:
Economic growth rate (GDP) in the area is estimated at 11.5%.
Per capita income is estimated at 13 million dongs/person/ year.
Production of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in 2011 increased by 3.9% (especially
farming production increased by 5.2% (thanks to the two successful rice crops, the most
productive crops ever before, other crops quite stable and favorable). Total grain output
of the whole year was 75,877 tons, an increase of 3.7% over 2010.
Total state budget revenue in the area was estimated at 48.5 billion dongs.
The production value of industry and small-scale industry (at constant price of 1994) was
estimated at 75 billion dongs.
Meat finisher output was 17,000 tons, increasing 6.25% over 2010.
The district forest area was 351 hectares, an increase of 56.5% over 2010.
The production value per 1 hectare of farming land (present price) was estimated at 67
million dongs, increasing 9 million over the plan.
Forest coverage rate reached 25%.
According to the preliminary population census of Phu Binh District, as on April 1st,
2009 its total population is 133,322 people in 34,963 households, of which the rural
population is 125,887 people, and urban population is 7435 people. The average
population density is 556 people per square kilometer, coming second after Thai Nguyen
Besides land and natural resources, the potential in labor force of Phu Binh District is
In 2011, Phu Binh District has created new jobs for 3,100 employees, equally 103% of
plan targets, of which 130 people are sent to work abroad under predefined period,
equally 108.3% of the plan of the year; District vocational training center provided
training and associated training for over 702 people, equally 140% of the plan, 96.8% of
which have been employed immediately after being trained.
The crude birth rate has been reduced to 0.3‰ (estimated) which is 0.1‰ lower than
The poor household rate has been reduced to 5.07% (estimated) which is 2,07% lower
Material and spiritual life of the local people of all groups has been significantly
improved; many social policies to support ethnic minorities, the poor and disadvantaged
areas have been seriously implemented. The policies of the Party and State have been
realized comprehensively, timely and effectively.
The district has 21 kindergartens, 21 primary schools and 21 secondary schools, 03 high
schools, 01 continuing education center, 01 career consulting center, 01 vocational
training center; all communes or town have their own community learning centers. So far
the district has completely removed illiteracy, completed popular secondary school
education and has had 25 schools having achieved the National Standard. The schools
and their facilities have been solidly built.
Health care for people: District Hospital continues to be invested in infrastructure and
facilities; 100 percents of commune health centers have doctors with their facilities,
medical instruments being enhanced; population and family planning propaganda cooperators and village physicians are available in most of the villages and town’s
population groups. Therefore, basic health care needs have been met.
The percentage of malnourished children under 5 years old has been reduced to 21.4%.
The percentage of rural households using hygienic water is 75%.
Social security and the local army training have been well organized, met 100% of the
Infrastructures: the traffic system has received great interest and investment; the project
of renovating and upgrading Highway 37 has been completed; many inter-communal
roads have been invested to widen and asphalt such as Cau May - Tan Kim - Tan Khach
Road, Cau May- Dong Lien Road, Uc Son - Tan Thanh - Hop Tien Road, and many
others are under plans to be built in the short coming time. Facilities for schools, classes,
hospitals, and clinics have been being well invested. All villages have been provided with
national electricity to use in daily life and production. These are favorable conditions to
evoke potentials and strengths, to boost the economy of the mountainous areas with large
Road system of Phu Binh District is relatively dense. Highway 37 from Thai Nguyen
City runs through the entire length of the district to Bac Giang. National Highway 38
from Diem Thuy via Ha Chau and Kha Son to Nha Nam (Bac Giang). In addition to the
two main highways, Phu Binh also has 120 kilometers of inter-communal, 198 kilometers
of inter-village roads, enabling car drive in every village in the district.
Social security situation: the political security and social safety in the district is always
stable; all ethnic minorities in the district absolutely believe in the leadership of the Party
and local authorities. The communes of Tan Khanh, Tan Hoa, Tan Kim, Ban Dat and
Dong Lien have done good work in keeping security in the border areas over the years.
1.3. San Diu People in Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen Province
1.3.1. The people’s name, historical origin and population
In Vietnam San Diu people is a minority group with small population, living mainly in
the North: about 40,000 people, living on some low hills of the Quang Ninh, Hung Yen,
Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Phu Tho, Vinh Phuc, Bac Kan, Thai Nguyen, Ha Giang, Tuyen
Quang, and Thanh Hoa [4, p. 87].
San Diu people call themselves “San Deo Nhin”, Sino-Vietnamese transcription is “Son
Dzao Nhan” which means Dzao People on the hills. Other peoples call San Diu people
with different names basing on their dressing style, their house style, etc., such as: Man
Quan Coc or Trai Coc (people with short pans), Man Vay Xe (people with slit skirts),
Trai Dat, etc.
Not until Mar 1960 the name San Diu was officially recognized by the National
Department of Statistics. From that time on, the name San Diu has been officially used in
all administrative documents. Nowadays, the name San Diu is popularly used around the
The origin of San Diu people has not been revealed, as there is no historical evidence
about that; and all we have is by guess.
To tell about their own origin, San Diu people in Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen
Province created the mythical story “Frog King”, which is popularly told among the
people. The story tells that under the brutal reign of Chinese feudalism (from late Ming
Dynasty to early Qing Dynasty in the Seventeenth Century), San Diu people were caused
to be in poverty and homelessness; some of the survival together ran away toward the
Southeast Asia countries to settle down, including Vietnam.
Although their origin has not been determined, San Diu people are always aware of being
a people with the name San Diu they called themselves. No one remembers how they
migrated to Vietnam; only the pain and frightening are left in their mind. However, they
still clearly remember when they joined the Vietnamese peoples to live here.
In his book “ San Diu people in Vietnam”, Ma Khanh Bang wrote: “After entering
Vietnam, San Diu people crossed over Hoang Chuc Cao Son Mountain to Ha Coi, Tien
Yen before spreading to many other places. Some of them went along the coastline to
Dam Ha, Mong Cai, Hoanh Bo, Mao Khe, Dong Trieu and a small number went to Chi
Linh (Hai Duong), whereas most of them followed the Yen Tu Range to Luc Nam, Luc
Ngan, Lang Giang, Yen The (Bac Giang), and then from there moved to Vinh Yen, Phuc
Yen (Vinh Phuc), Tuyen Quang (Ha Tuyen), Thai Nguyen (Bac Thai). So, San Diu people
have been residing on the large midland from the left bank of Red River to the East of the
Northern Vietnam. Besides a number of residents gathering in some communes of the
former Bac Giang Province, the majority live in the Northeast and Southeast sides of
Tam Dao Range in nowadays Vinh Phu, Ha Tuyen and Bac Thai provinces”[2, p. 17].
In Phu Binh District there are many peoples residing together such as: Chinese, Nung,
San Chay, Dzao, H’mong, etc. The population of Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen
Province was 134,150 people according to statistic of the 01/04/2009 census, in which
San Diu people’s population was 3115, accounting for 2.3% of the district population.
Table 1.1: Phu Binh District’s population by ethnicity, gender, urban and rural area
Male Female Total Male Female
126756 62642 64114
124182 92.57 61208 62974
116980 57677 59303
Source: [27, tr.119]
In Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen Province, San Diu people are present in mostly every
commune, but the majority of them are in the two communes of Ban Dat and Tan Khanh,
which, respectively, count for 81 percents and 11.7 percents of their total population of
the district. Despite the scattered distribution in several communes of the district, their
culture is identical. Thus, our real research has been carried out in reality in these two
communes where there are most San Diu people of the district in order to generalize the
cultural identities available in the two ceremonies of marriage and funeral, and
comparing with traditional customs to find the changes and reasons for those changes in
Table 1.2: San Diu people’s population in Phu Binh District - Thai Nguyen Province
San Diu of total San
households population population
Source: Results from survey on ethnic minorities in Phu Binh District of the Chamber of
Ethnicity, Phu Binh District People’s Committee, 2011.
1.3.2. Social organization
In Phu Binh District, the San Diu people’s villages are set on flat ground, the small valley
or foot of the low hills and subject to the following specific criteria:
Firstly, its back should lie on a hill or high ridge and its front should be flat and airy.
With San Diu people, besides natural reasons, their selection of location is also affected
by Chinese geomancy. Living in the midland, lying back on the hills and looking over the
valley, they can cultivate both wet land and dry land, as well as take advantage of natural
resources provided by forests. Furthermore, according to feng shui, at least each village
or house needs a stand to lean on. In better case, there are two “hands” on sides, and a
“block” on the far front (all are hills or ridges), that location is the best and the people
living there can thrive well.
Secondly, it should be near natural water sources (rivers, streams, creeks, ponds), which
is convenient for their living and farming. In the past, San Diu people did not have wells,
so rivers, streams, creeks and ponds were also water sources for daily living activities of
their community. For playing such an important role, water sources are strictly protected
by conventions created by the community. In addition, due to the influence of feng shui
and folk beliefs, people often make them holy or put them in mysterious legends.
San Diu people’s villages are a kind of rural community mainly basing on neighborhood
relationships. Each village resides together many different extended families (clans).
They are organizations of traditional families: blood relations are paternal; children are
named after their father’s family name. Consequently, the relations among extended
family’s members are very close; together with relations among the community,
solidarity in the villages is a must. They often say “Slan Déo loỏng si” to mean that there
are not many San Diu people, so they must unify and help one another. In their villages,
houses are organized in a collective-but-separate way; each house has its own territory
with clearly defined boundaries. In the past, there are about 50 clans in a village of San
Diu people, but today they are much more crowded, up to 100 clans per village.
Extended family relationship:
Extended family matters are considered to be very important to San Diu people. In Phu
Binh - Thai Nguyen, there are many clans living in a village: Hoang, Vi, An, To, Truong,
Duong, Do, Ha, Luu, Pham, Viem, Dao, Ly, Tran, Ninh, Tu, Le, Diep, Ta, etc.
Each clan has their own system of middle names. They believe that in the past every clan
lived in the same area, and worshiped the same ancient Father. Due to historical changes,
they moved to different places. When they met, they could recognize their relatives if
they had the same family and middle names. Basing on their middle names they would
know their relative relations. However, name titles depend on date of birth: the older man
will be the older brother.
While the role of patriarchs is often highly important with some ethnic groups, it is not
with San Diu people. However, sometimes they are invited to preside over the rites of a
wedding or a funeral; and just occasionally they are invited to witness property divisions
for children [17, p.23].
In marriage, San Diu people attach special important to the principle of blood-unrelated
marriage; people of the same extended family are not allowed to get married to each
other. Hence, the matters of extended family are always carefully taught to children by
San Diu people had changed to mode of small families of paternity before the August
Revolution, but their clan spirit is still strongly present. Although the patriarch does not
have any power over the clan, he is still invited to preside over the funeral ceremonies. In
a family, the father or the husband has the right to decide on everything. The eldest son is
nearly as highly respected as the father. Only sons are inherited their parents’ properties.
There are very strict taboos between a father and his daughter-in-law, and between a
brother and his sister-in-law. A woman must not directly take her baby to her father-inlaw or brother-in-law, but she must place the child in the bed before they take it. Fathers
and brothers-in-law must not get in their daughter-in-law’s room, even when she is not in.
Women’s position is low and they are not inherited properties from their parents. Only
when the family does not have a son, and her husband stays in her house, then she will
inherit their parents’ properties.
San Diu people are monogamous. However, because men are appreciated whereas
women are despised, a husband often marries an extra-wife if he does not have a son.
1.3.3. Livelihood culture
It is possible to say that San Diu people, like other peoples in Phu Binh District, Thai
Nguyen Province, have made the right use of the nature and exploit it to earn their living
and develop their community. With the topography, climate, soil, weather, hydrology,
etc. of a midland area, their daily livelihood activities not only benefit with many
advantages but also get many challenges. In such circumstances, with their traditional
livelihood customs, they have created a stable living although not all families are well
fed. After hundreds of years, San Diu people have withdrawn lots of experience in
working, which is reflected in their annual production cycle, and built up an economy
typical of the midland area in general but still boldly marked with their traditional
Farming: like other peoples, farming is the main source of food for daily meals and for
household animals, as well as materials for some other industries like textile, fabric
dyeing, etc. San Diu people plant many similar types of trees to other nearby peoples,
appropriate for growing and cultivating on different types of soil, and for different
seasons, such as: Rice (vo), crop plants: corn (mac), sweet potato (hong dzi), taro (xi hu),
white cassava (pac moc suy), red cassava (hong moc suy); vegetables: gourd, pumpkin,
cabbage, squash, egg-plant (khe), onion (song), garlic (ton), etc.; ingredient trees: sugar
cane, tea, cotton, anil, rattan, bamboo, palm, etc.; fruit trees: longan, jackfruit, orange,
Phu Binh District of Thai Nguyen Province is in the midlands with relatively stable
topography in terms of geologic formation. However, through the long history of
exploitation, this area’s natural green cover, especially forests, has been seriously
destroyed, which caused soil to be eroded, only rocks left with no trees. San Diu people
have made full use of mixed and extra crops. Their practice of alternative and mixed
crops is a valuable treasure of knowledge on their soil solution. Farming tools of San Diu
people are various and abundant, including ard or early plow (lai coc/lay) which is firm
and light, suitable for terrace sloppy fields. Harrows including single, double and board
ones. They have many types of hoes, rakes at various sizes to be used for different
purposes. The board rake is much more efficient than hoes in making ridges. They use Vshaped cutters (vo lem) or other sickles to harvest rice. Besides, they also have wheel-less
plows, shovels, produce knives, wheel-less ox-carts, bailers, etc.
Their livestock raising is well developed now. In the past, they mainly raising for the
needs of pulling force and food in weddings, funerals, ceremonies, etc. Nowadays, it is
partly for the purpose of selling goods. The proportion of income from livestock out of
their total income is significantly increasing. In order to accomplish that purpose, the old
tradition of keeping animals out freely and for a long time has been replaced by new
methods of planned raising, keeping animals in sheds, feeding full, and applying
necessary measures of disease prevention.
San Diu ethnic people have traditional handicrafts of spinning, weaving, indigo making,
forging, paper making, basketry, furniture, etc. These hand-made products are mainly
used for their daily living and working activities, just sometimes for selling or
exchanging with other goods in the area, etc.
1.3.4. Material culture
Cuisine: San Diu people’s cuisine is mainly based on the “plant civilization”. Everyday
they have rice, boiled and stirred fried vegetables, and soup for meals. Whereas other
peoples often mainly have rice, San Diu people also have porridge for their meals, which
is one of their traditional customs. They often eat rice and porridge together, so everyday
they cook watery porridge which they consider to be a refreshing drink. Sometimes they
also invite guests - neighbors or strangers - to drink watery porridge.
During festivals, or feasts with the participation of their community, there are plenty of
delicious dishes made from chicken, pork, cakes, etc. They often slaughter many pigs in
these cases. If they can not eat all, the rest will be salted, which is an efficient method of
preserving food for long. On the annual Thanh Minh Day (Grave-visiting Day), San Diu
people must pray to their ancestors with black glutinous rice. To make this type of rice,
they have to crush the leaves of “lau sau” trees (which is popular in the area), and take its
water to soak the glutinous rice before cooking it. Black glutinous rice is made from a
special type of rice which is very supple and aromatic, mixed with the special taste of
“lau sau” leaves. On Tet holidays, they also make animal-shaped cakes such as chickenshaped (cay cong tap) or duck-shaped (ap cong cap) ones. These cakes are made from
glutinous rice, covered with wild pineapple leaves. Peng cake is the only one made for
San Diu people also have customs of eating betel, popular with both men and women.
They often take the most delicious food to the elderly and the children; the children often
eat chicken legs but not chicken feet for fear of bad writing, etc.
In some families there is still such a strict regulation that daughter-in-law must not sit and
eat lunch on the same tray with father-in-law and older brother-in-law, or even just sit on
a par with these people. When they have guests, women and children have to eat on a
lower separate tray.
Costumes: The traditional costumes of the women consist of a black scarf, a long shirt
(single or double. If is double, then it is always a white one beneath and a little longer
indigo one outside), a red traditional bra, a white or pink or light blue waist belt. Their
skirts which are indigo and longer than their knees are made from separate pieces of cloth
with the same belt. Each piece overlaps the others about 10-15 centimeters (4-piece skirt)
or each piece has three or four folds merging with each other (two-piece skirt). When
they are wearing such a skirt with a piece in the front and the other at the back, it makes a
two slit along the outer sides of their legs. A four-piece skirt will have two pieces at the
front and two at the back. Wearing this type of skirt always requires women to be
thoughtful while they are working or communicating. Their group name “Man Vay Xe”
(people with slit skirts) derived from this outstanding outfit character.
People of different ages wear their shirts differently. Old women often wear long shirt
with the left flap crossed over the right, which is contrary to the young. Besides, the
young females wear red or purple waist belts decorated with colorful patterns. Women
with baby often wear shorter shirt without buttons but strings to tie up. Men do not wear
much jewelry, just some bronze or silver rings, or a necklace occasionally. Women have
earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings, belly chains, etc. Another special accessory of
women is the betel bag (loi thoi) in shape of a grapefruit segment. It is carefully sewn and
embroidered. Each detail shows the ingenuity and carefulness of San Diu women. It is
embroidered with colorful threads, and inserted with four to eight strings made of
colorful threads. The long string threaded with a copper coin chain is tied at the end, and
can be squeezed over the shoulder backwards to keep the betel bag. Besides this betel
bag, we cannot ignore the areca cutting knife with its meticulously carved wooden bag
which is always attached to their waist belt during holidays and festivals. Their betel bag
is an accessory to make them more graceful.
Today the vast majority of San Diu people wear modern outfits like Vietnamese people.
The traditional costumes are just worn on their holidays or festivals.
Accommodation: traditionally, San Diu people used to build houses with thatched roofs
and earthen walls, very few windows, so being low and humid. There are two types of
earthen houses: houses with stilts and thin earthen walls, and houses with thick earthen
Their houses now have brick walls and tile roofs like those of Vietnamese people in their
1.3.5. Spiritual culture
Religion and beliefs:
San Diu people concept that there are three worlds: the upper world is of ancestors and
gods, the middle world is of human beings, and the lower world is the hell. In the upper
world (Heaven), gods govern the two lower worlds. In the middle world (earth), there are
challenges for people, and in the lower world (hell), people, or more exactly human
spirits, receive goodness or punishments for their behaviors on earth. When nature is out
of men’s control, and some phenomena are unexplainable, their belief in devils and gods
has a strong effect on their spiritual life. With that belief, people have customs of
worshiping to calm their souls. Worshiping customs are now popular needs of San Diu
people with many unique rites.
Firstly, it is their customs of worshiping their ancestors. Normally, each family has an
altar to worship their ancestors placed right at the center of their house, close to the back
wall. San Diu people do not have death ceremonies, but everytime there is an important
event such as having a baby, building a new house, wedding or funeral, etc., they do not
forget to tell their ancestors. Together with worshiping their ancestors, they also pay
attention to worshiping the Gods of the kitchen and the God of land.
Because of the contact with Vietnamese and Chinese cultures, San Diu people cannot
avoid the influence of the religions like Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. However,
the effects of these three religions are not much shown in material aspects with
worshiping places and systems of believers, but mainly in spiritual life with popular
The influences of Taoism are reflected on their acceptance of the concepts of the
universe, systems of Gods with the three worlds: Heaven, Earth and Hell. In their
community there are some priests who are granted with honors and seals. In their shrine
they worship Heaven God, and the three other Taoism’s Gods (Thuong Thanh, Thai
Thanh and Ngoc Thanh). During San Diu people’s life cycle ceremonies, especially in
their funerals, the role of these priests is very important.
The influences of Buddhism on their spiritual life are most clearly shown in their praying
for happiness and safety, etc. They do believe in the theories of “causes and effects” and
“incarnation”, so they find it important to do goodness and moral acts; they always teach
their children to act morally and humanely, so that they will have happiness in the future.
Confucianism also has great effects on the rituals of San Diu people. It is represented in
the concepts of personal destiny. They believe that each person has his own destiny
which is set by Heaven: a destiny of being rich or poor, of tall or short, destiny of being
good partners or not, etc.
Like other ethnic minorities, San Diu people’s popular arts were formed and have been
being developed along their history of foundation and development of the group. Popular
arts are the voice of the people, are created by the people during their working and
fighting, and are kept through the generations. San Diu people have a rich long-lasting
source of popular arts with various forms and unique features for the group.
By tradition, when the priests come to practice a ritual, they always bring along with
various types of instruments: Shakyamuni Buddha Statue, bronze dragon statue, Buddhist
ringed staff, authorized card, etc., and a special thing: the worshiping picture. The
characters presented in the pictures symbolize the figures of imagination in San Diu
people’s spiritual life. Besides, the worshiping pictures, they also have God paintings,
Tam Dan paintings. God painting is used in a priest’s funeral. A short time after the death
of a priest, his family holds a praying for him, and God paintings are used in that
ceremony. A Tam Dan painting is also hung on the altar together with the God painting,
which is believed to protect children of the priest.
Music instruments include conical horns “ngoi coc” (made of ox horn or shellfish), flutes,
high-pitched flat gongs, cymbals, leather drums, etc.
About dancing, in the religious rituals, there are several dances such as dance with staffs
(lai thet song), dance with lamps (binh tanh), street cleaning dance (hang coong chieesp
senh), dance with charmed stick or ghost controlling dance (ket cay than), worshipingand-running dance, etc.
An important type of folk singing is love singing which is call “soong co” by San Diu
people. This is a type of parallel singing between men and women, like sli singing or luon
singing of Tay, or Nung people.
“Soong co” is an elegant form of singing, with various contents to praise the beauty of
the nature, the love for hometown, country, people and love for lover, etc. It tells about
laborers’ diligence and bravery, criticizes bad habits, and praises people’s wishes to
overcome all troubles to earn a good and happy life.
The lively “soong co” is fascinating because its lyric is not pre-written, but it is created
by thought at the moment of singing so that it is appropriate with the context and with the
singer’s partner. “Soong co” singers often use the scenic spots of their hometown, their
daily working activities, and historic events to beautify their singing and to show love
and their wish to have a prosperous and happy life.
There are various forms of “soong co” singing typically including happy new year
singing (shin nen co), new house singing (soong chiu oc co), happy wedding singing
(senh ca chiu co), parallel love singing (hi soon soong so), etc. They may sing overnight,
and night after night, even throughout a week.
A wedding of San Diu people cannot go without “soong co”, which is to celebrate the
rituals of a wedding: first introducing, describing wedding presents and welcome
presents, inviting guests, congratulating brides and grooms, saying thank-you to servants,
etc. All these are realized by singing.
Conclusion for chapter 1:
Phu Binh is a mountainous and midland district to the south of Thai Nguyen City, with
very convenient conditions for plants and animals to live and nourish, which brings back
a rich source of foods. Phu Binh District is home to many ethnic groups which have their
own cultural characters. Consequently, mixed distribution of groups of people enables a
thorough cultural exchange among them, which helps create a colorful picture of Phu
Binh District’s ethnic groups.
With convenient natural conditions appropriate with their psychological thinking and
living habits, this place is also home to San Diu people, with most of them living in Tan
Khanh and Ban Dat Communes. The people are immigrants from the north but their
cultural customs are really interesting. Besides traditional values, they also absorb new
customs to enrich their culture, which is the result of the nowadays cultural exchange.