The Dzao People
The Dzao (pronounced “Zao”) ethnic minority is incredibly diverse in all aspects of life: social and religious practices, architecture, agriculture and dress.
Small, localized groups settled in the northern border region of Vietnam after leaving China some 200 years ago.
Dzao people now number some 500,000 in Vietnam, with related groups in Laos, Thailand and China.
Long ago the Dao adopted the Chinese writing system and have a substantial literary tradition.
One popular legend records the origin of the 12 Dao clans: Ban Ho, a powerful dog of five colours, killed an enemy general and was granted the hand of a princess in marriage, who gave birth to twelve children.
Ban Ho is worshipped by the Dao and the five colours of Dao embroidery represent their ancestor.
The Dao boast a particularly striking traditional dress, characterized by a rectangular patch of embroidery sewn onto the back of their jackets, and both men and women sport silver or copper jewellery and tasselled shoulder bags.
Dao women wear elaborate headgear, usually, a triangular-shaped turban, either embroidered or decorated with silver coins, beads and coloured tassels.
It’s also common for Dao women to shave their eyebrows and sometimes the whole head, coating the skull with wax.
Dao people live at all altitudes, their house style and agricultural techniques varying accordingly.
While groups living at lower levels are relatively prosperous, growing rice and raising livestock, those in the high, rocky mountains live in considerable poverty.
© C Jan Dodd – The Rough Guide to Vietnam