The Dao, or perhaps more properly the Kim Mien or Mun (jungle people), numbers nearly half a million and speaks Dao, a language within theHmong-Dao family. Originally coming from China during the 12th and 13th Centuries and then again at the beginning of the 20th Century. There are a number of sub -groups within the Dao, often described by their clothing; long tunics, blue vests, white trousers and one group by silver coins. Home are the mountainous regions near the Chinese and Laos Borders and tourists on a holiday in Vietnam can expect to visit the region in some Vietnam travel packages.
The Dao specialises in ‘’wet rice’’ cultivation but also grow corn, a variety of vegetables as well as keeping livestock such as buffalo, pigs, poultry, horses and goats. Sugar cane is refined and oils extracted from fruits.
The Dao also grows cotton which is weaved and dyed, often colourful indigo which goes well with the jewellery it makes. Locally produced paper has been used to record history, songs and stories
Some sub-groups are nomadic and hence not experienced farmers.
Some are experienced in metal working; silversmiths while others make farming tools and rifles and cast iron bullets.
Typically, there are two meals, lunch and dinner. It is only at harvest time that the people have breakfast. Rice is central to the diet though in some areas rice is replaced by corn and soup. Meat tends to be boiled rather than fried. It is often added to soups with sour bamboo and meat a favourite. Local wine is sour and hot with distilled alcohol also commonly drunk. Tobacco is grown locally and smoked as cigarettes or in a pipe.
There is a great deal of diversity within the Dao that has already been suggested above. Men formerly wore their hair long with a tuft and the remainder of the head shaven. There are different head scarves and long and short shirts. Women will wear skirt or trousers with a long blouse. One thing that is uniform is the love of colour and embroidery ranging from animals to birds and trees. Wax is used to draw on cloth with the end result being a white and blue (indigo) pattern.
Some communities are halfway up a mountainside, others in valleys. If your travel in Vietnam takes you north of Hanoi, you are likely to meet the Dao. Some houses are built on the ground, others on stilts. There are a number of considerations when it comes to building a new house with the selection of land being especially interesting. At night time people dig a hole and put grains of rice down to represent people and animals. Based upon the dreams that follow and whether any rice remains in the hole, a decision is taken.
When it comes to marriage, the birth dates of the couple must be auspicious. The bride comes to the groom’s house and is carried on his back into the house. Dao women give birth sitting with the child then bathed. Flowers and green branches are hung at the doorway against evil spirits and the celebrations begin three days after the birth.
There is plenty of tradition in Dao society with elements of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Ancestor worship is important as well. Folk literature and art include traditional stories with music and dance playing a strong role in festivals and rituals.