There is a significant number of Nung people in relation to the other small ethnic groups of Vietnam; around 700,00 and they speak a language, Tay-Thai from the Tai-Kadai family of languages. The group originated from China, heading south into Vietnam two or three centuries ago and settling in the north east highland region. The script of the Nung is in Chinese characters but read in the Nung language which is Latin script.
The region has its restrictions and many things need to be carried manually, though in some places the people can use animals to pull carriages on ties or runners. In olden days, fields had become private possessions which resulted in landlord and tenant society. The August Revolution changed that.
Home is the mountainous region so they are unable to grow ‘’wet rice; instead they grow ‘’dry rice’’ on the hillside terraces. The people are good farmers and besides rice they grow other crops such as corn, calabashes, green vegetables and root vegetables.
The skills of the Nung (also known as Nong) include weaving, poonah-paper making, metal working and tile making. Families have their own traditional skills which they follow when they take a break from the fields. The handicrafts are for the use of the family but they are also taken to local markets for sale or barter. If you are on holiday in Vietnam, your Vietnam tour package is certain to include visits to local markets.
Some of the Nung eat primarily corn. It is ground down to flour and used to make soup. Food is generally fried or stir-fried but rarely boiled. Beef and buffalo meat do not play any part in the Nung diet.
Nung clothes are very simple and traditional. They are rough, handmade and rarely embroidered in any way; they are made for a working life. Women have long skirts which button up to under the arms.
Unlike in many ethnic groups, young couples can date and pick their own partners. They can exchange gifts though if they wish to marry they must get parental approval. There is still the issue of superstition if birth dates are suitable. Social rank must be acceptable as well. The bride’s family will require gifts, the more gifts the more valuable the bride. The ceremony involves the bride coming to the groom’s family where she will stay until just before the birth of her first child when she will move to a house with her husband. Any new house that is built must be on auspicious land.
Ancestor worship is extremely important. There will be an altar in the house with details of the family history written in Chinese. The Nung also worships the God of the Land, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy among others and whenever there is a natural disaster they will hold a ritual. Vietnamese New Year (Tet) is especially important in the calendar and anyone travelling to Vietnam at that time is in for a real treat.
Art & Play
Sli is famous; a love duet sung in groups at holiday or festival times. Throwing the shuttlecock, badminton and spinning top are popular games.