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Khau A Mountain: Housing A Mysterious Ethnic Legacy

Khau A Mountain in the Northern Province of Lao Cai holds a particular kind of mystery in that deep inside its ranges can be found the seemingly elusive yet enchanting Tay ethnic people who up to this day still live in stilt houses.

Particularly in Nghia Do Valley, Bao Yen District, a Tay community resides peacefully yet carrying with them a rich Vietnamese history and culture. Originally from the province of Ha Giang, the ethnic group arrived at the valley and built their community characterized by the one-of-a-kind stilt houses and unique customs.

A stilt house is not just a physical structure to live in but a religious and cultural representation all in all. One stilt house takes several months and even up to one year to build, with Tay men venturing themselves deep into the forest just in search of the best wood. They are usually built on top of hills and mountains to remain strong and standing especially in times of floods.

A stilt house has three fires, with the biggest and most important one placed in the middle where visitors are being welcomed. This fire is meant to bring warmth to the whole house and is the main source of the other fires. The second fire is set beside the elders to keep them warm, while the third fire is used for cooking, positioned in a separate room.

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Tay people are also skilled at weaving, with each family owning a loom, financial status regardless. A Tay weaving design is characterized by quadrangular patterns arranged symmetrically, representing harmony between the people and the universe or yin and yang. Young Tay girls in particular are required to learn the art before they get married like making skirts. On their wedding day, they are to make and bring blankets and pillows as gifts to their in-laws.

Another specific Tay tradition is the oral culture that has been passed down through generations, handwritten pages that contain more than 300 proverbs, folk tales, recipes, rituals and customs.

When it comes to food, glutinous rice cooked with palm fruit it the signature Tay delicacy. These palm fruits are quite special because they can only be picked during the 11th to 12th lunar months. Discarding the seed and skin, the fruit is simmered for 20 minutes while its pulp is used to make xoi co. The oil from the fruit sticks perfectly to the glutinous rice giving it a “buttery and delicate” taste.

Some outside people offer to buy the stilt houses at an exorbitant price, but the Tay people know enough that more than money and material things, their history and culture are more important because it will last long after all worldly possessions are gone.


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