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La Chi ethnic group builds up spiritual life

The La Chi ethnic minority group has approximately 8,000 individuals, living mostly in the northern mountainous province of Ha Giang. The La Chi settle on the slopes of mountains, forming hamlets of between five and 10 houses. The house is half built on stilts above the ground, on a slope with a two- sectioned roof on different levels.

There is only one stairway providing access to the floor on stilts. The house is surrounded by a thick clay wall almost as high as the roof.

The La Chi costume is simple and elegant. Most women wear trousers, while some still have skirts like those of the Tay ethnic group. They usually wear a four-panelled dress without buttons, opening at the front. The flaps are held together by a belt to fall to the knees. La Chi women wear bras under their dresses. The hems of the dress and bra are edged with a band of coloured cloth, which stands out against the dark indigo background.

La Chi male attire is composed of wide trousers which are covered by a robe. The robe falls to the knees and is buttoned on the left side. Men have long hair covered with a turban wound around the head many times.

Cultivating irrigated and terraced fields on hillsides is the principal farming method of the La Chi. In lower fields, the La Chi practice transplantation of paddy seedlings. To overcome the shortage of land, the La Chi also cultivate dry land where rice, corn, sweet potatoes, cassava and other food crops are grown.

Most La Chi women are good at threading, weaving, dyeing and embroidering. Men are excellent house-builders and makers of household utensils from rattan and bamboo. Some are blacksmiths and carpenters, but they take up these occupations only on a seasonal basis.

The La Chi maintain the patrilineal nuclear family and a house may be shared by three generations at the most. The spirit of lineage cohesion has weakened and members of the fifth generation of the same family can marry each other. The only tie binding those of the same lineage together is the veneration of common ancestors, whose are honoured during the seventh moon of the year. This is the largest festival of the La Chi. The votive offerings comprise a skin drum and some bronze drums. The person representing the whole lineage presides over the ceremony. He is not necessarily the chief of the lineage, or the oldest person, but should know how to conduct the ceremony.

Besides ancestor worship, the La Chi observe the rituals of the agricultural cycle, which are related to the function of the buffalo and to the soul of rice.

Each village has rigorous rules for the performance of these rites in the "communal house". Each lineage appoints two representatives for this purpose. The communal house is built on eight stilts with a two-layered roof, under which are hung buffalo and ox skulls to represent the remains of sacrifices. This is the place to worship the soul of rice, the spirits of ancestors and Hoang Din Thung, whom the La Chi consider one of their common ancestors.

In the past, the worshipping rituals took place every year and were regarded as major events. Now, such practices are held only once every 10 or 15 years.

The La Chi have a very rich heritage of folk literature. Musical instruments comprise skin drums, bronze drums, zither, and one resembling a harp.

In seasonal festivities, young men and women express their love through ni co songs (similar to the luon of the Tay ethnic group). Some traditional dances, i.e. the dances with handkerchiefs, fans, belts or buffalo horns, are still performed, especially in the course of buffalo sacrifices. The most popular game is the con (small ball thrown through a circle tied to the top of a mast).

VOV - (03/10/2005)

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