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  Ethnography

San Diu ethnic group maintains traditional customs

The San Diu ethnic minority group has approximately 94,000 individuals living mostly in the northern provinces of Quang Ninh, Bac Giang, Bac Can, Thai Nguyen, Vinh Phuc, Tuyen Quang and Hai Duong.

They generally live in densely-populated villages at the foot of mountains or in upland regions. Their houses are scattered, with few gardens or large trees normally around them.

San Diu women have retained their traditional costume: a pagne comprising several pieces falling down to the calf, and a long dress open at the neck over a bra. The pagne and dress are of a dark indigo colour. A long belt hugs the waist and falls to the knee as an ornament, in addition to a black turban and leggings. Their jewellery includes silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings and chains.

Meanwhile, men’s ceremonial clothes are composed of a pair of white trousers, a black dress, a muslin turban holding the hair in a chignon, and shoes.

The San Diu maintain the patriarchal nuclear family. They are monogamous, but a man may have a second wife if the first does not give him an heir. Marriage between two persons with the same family name is forbidden. From the fifth generation onward, such marriages are tolerated, but a ceremony must be held beforehand to ask the ancestors’ pardon. The final decision is made by the parents, but it still depends on an "examination of the age" of the future couple.

Presents sent the betrothed girl by the family of the young man are relatively expensive. If the couple are late in having children, a "second marriage" is organised. After the winter solstice, the husband pretends to get angry and drives his wife back to her parents. Then, through the mediation of a go-between, he "re-asks" the hand of the women and celebrates a new wedding, which is expected to "give the couple many offspring".

Three years after burial, the dead are exhumed. The remains are washed, dried, and placed in a sitting position in a terracotta jar or in a lying position in a small sandstone coffin, then buried again. This custom is similar to that of the Viet (Kinh) – the largest ethnic group in Vietnam.

During the burial ceremony, children of the deceased person crawl around the grave, starting from his feet. Daughters crawl clockwise, sons anti-clockwise, while throwing earth into the grave. Before standing up, each should take a handful of earth, then run to their house without looking back, and throw the earth into the stables or poultry yard, in the hope of successful animal rearing. They then come into the house and sit down on a basket of paddy. The more the paddy sticks to their clothes, the happier they will be. To end the burial ceremony, they eat a boiled chicken with their fingers which they have placed on the coffin the previous day.

VOV - (11/10/2005)


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