Vietnam is home to a diverse mix of 54 officially recognized ethnic groups. Of these, the Kinh or ethnic Viet of southern Chinese origin, make up around 86 percent of the population. Settled along the coast and in the Red River and Mekong Deltas, they share the plains with the Hoa or ethnic Chinese, as well as the Khmer and Cham. A further 50 ethnic groups live scattered across the Northern and Central High lands, all with their own distinctive customs, clothing, and languages. While the northern groups, such as Thai and Hmong, have mostly migrated from China, those of the Central Highlands are mainly indigenous.
The Khmer are of Cambodian origin and still follow many of their customs and traditions. One of these is the Prathom Sva Pol or the Monkey Dance, which is per formed during the Oc Om Boc Festival when dancers in masks portray the spirit of monkeys.
The Bahnar people of the Central Highlands center their cultural activities around nha rong or communal houses. With distinctive upward tapering roofs, these buildings are inaugurated with gong music, dancing, and jars of rice wine.
Cham Muslims or Cham Bani fol low an indigenous form of Shiite Islam. Friday prayers are chanted by a group of about 50 priests, who dress in white sarongs and cover their shaved heads with a ceremonial turban.
The Bru live in the Central Highlands and belong to the Mon-Khmer group. They rely on wet-rice farming and enjoy lively folk music for entertainment. A common habit among the Bru is smoking tobacco and adults, as well as children, can be seen with a pipe in their mouth.
Mnong tribesmen, once acclaimed elephant catchers and trainers, have long enjoyed communal smoking of tobacco through water pipes. Today, both men and women of this matrilineal society are known for their skills at basket weaving, textile printing, and jewelry making.
Thai Community The second largest ethnic minority in Vietnam, the Thai are divided into Black, White, and Red subgroups based on the color of their clothing, as well as on the basis of their early settlements around the Black and Red Rivers respectively. The Black Thai are the most industrious and prosperous of all the subgroups, farming rich rice paddies in the uplands of the northwest. Although a high value is set on education, they are faithful to their cultural heritage. They continue to perform spirit worship, and have kept their ancient folk songs and dances alive and unchanged through the centuries.
Flower Hmong women are among the most distinctive of all minority groups. They dress elaborately with layers of colored cloth, and devote much of their time to the exquisite embroidery for which they are famous
The Muong are justly celebrated for their weaving skills. They usually place their bamboo loom in the shady space under their thatched stilt houses.
The Red Dao subdivision of Northern Vietnam’s Dao minority group derives its name from the brilliant red turbans worn by the women, who beautify themselves by shaving off their hair and eyebrows. Arguably the most enterprising of the high land peoples, the Dao make a living farming, weaving, and paper making. They also have a rich literary heritage, which is written in a variation of the Chinese script.