21 Photos Reveal the Beauty and Rich Cultures of Vietnam’s Ethnic Minorities

With 54 offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized eth­nic groups, hun­dreds of more sub-groups speak­ing over 100 lan­guages, Viet­nam is one of the most eth­no-lin­guis­ti­cal­ly diverse regions in South East Asia. Viet­nam’s eth­nic groups are an amal­ga­ma­tion of cul­ture from as far off as the Himalayas, India, Chi­na, and islands of the South Pacif­ic. A cross­roads of sorts with hun­dreds of diverse eth­nic minor­i­ty groups.
Photos reveal the beauty and diversity of Vietnams ethnic minorities
With such eth­nic diver­si­ty comes strik­ing fea­tures and cus­tom tra­di­tion­al cloth­ing that tell a sto­ry of their ori­gins. Show­cased here are 21 pho­tos that high­light this beau­ti­ful diver­si­ty across Viet­nam. These images are part of “Viet­nam The Peo­ple” a cul­tur­al pho­tog­ra­phy project by pho­tog­ra­ph­er Alden Ander­son and Trinh Nguyen to doc­u­ment the cul­tures and sto­ries of Vietnam.

Dao Ethnic Group

Girl from Dao Ethnic Minority Group in Vietnam

Qua, 3, Dao Cham (Dao Ao Dai) eth­nic group. Ha Giang, (North) Vietnam

Dao Ethnic Minority Woman Vietnam

Quáy, 102, Red Dao Eth­nic Group.
Ha Giang, (North) Vietnam

The Dao eth­nic group (pro­nounced “Yao” in South­ern Viet­nam and “Zao” in North­ern Viet­nam) is per­haps the most cul­tur­al­ly diverse of all of the eth­nic minor­i­ty groups in Viet­nam. Orig­i­nal­ly from South­ern Chi­na, the Dao migrat­ed to Viet­nam, Laos, and Thai­land start­ing as ear­ly as the 13th cen­tu­ry. They pri­mar­i­ly live in the moun­tain­ous regions across North­ern Viet­nam and retain strong cul­tur­al tra­di­tions. Trav­el­ing around the North it’s quite com­mon to see Dao women and men work­ing and going about their dai­ly lives while wear­ing their tra­di­tion­al clothes which vary great­ly between the Dao sub-eth­nic groups. With a pop­u­la­tion of 891,151, the Dao are the 8th most pop­u­lous eth­nic minor­i­ty group in Vietnam.

Ba Na Ethnic Group

Bahnar ethnic group vietnam Central Highlands

A Bui, 63, Bah­nar (Ba Na) Eth­nic Group. Kon Tum, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

Indige­nous to the Cen­tral High­lands of Viet­nam the Bah­nar (or Ba Na) eth­nic minor­i­ty group has a rich musi­cal her­itage with brass gongs as a cor­ner­stone in their many cul­tur­al cer­e­monies. In most Bah­nar com­mu­ni­ties there is a large stilt house with a long slop­ing roof called a “Rong” at the cen­ter of the vil­lage. These Rong hous­es are still quite com­mon in Bah­nar vil­lages today.

Cong Ethnic Group

Woman from the Cong Ethnic Minority Group Vietnam

Bê, 62, Cống Eth­nic Group. Lai Chau, (North­ern) Vietnam

With 2,729 peo­ple in Viet­nam, the Cong are the 7th small­est eth­nic minor­i­ty group in Viet­nam. Their dis­tinc­tive bright­ly cov­ered tra­di­tion­al clothes for women are a patch­work of dif­fer­ent fab­rics, adorned with an abun­dance of sil­ver jew­el­ry indica­tive of their nomadic heritage.

La Hu Ethnic Group

La Hu Ethnic Minority Group Vietnam

Nhung, 82, La Hủ eth­nic group. Lai Chau, (North­ern) Vietnam

The once nomadic La Hu eth­nic group migrat­ed to Viet­nam from Chi­na in the 1800’s. Being nomadic was­n’t easy and at times they had to sub­sist on lit­tle more than roots gath­ered from the for­est. The tra­di­tion­al clothes worn by the women of the La Hu can be rec­og­nized by their dis­tinct col­or­ful head­dress­es and band­ed sleeve tunics adorned with coins and jew­el­ry in the front.

Lao Ethnic Group

Woman from Lao Ethnic Minority Group in North Vietnam

Hac, Lao Eth­nic Group. Lai Chau, (North­ern) Vietnam

The Lao eth­nic group in North West­ern Viet­nam are dis­tant­ly relat­ed to the peo­ple of the neigh­bor­ing coun­try of Laos. While they have no writ­ten script, the Lao in Viet­nam have a spo­ken lan­guage sim­i­lar to that of the peo­ple of Laos.  The Lao are known for their crafts and hand­made tra­di­tion­al clothes as can be seen in the pho­to of Hac (below) as she holds her rooster.

Ta Oi Ethnic Group

Ta Oi woman portrait Vietnam

Kăn Prả,92, Ta Oi Eth­nic Group. Hue, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

The Ta Oi eth­nic minor­i­ty group have a strong cul­tur­al tra­di­tion of bro­cade weav­ing called “Zeng” with intri­cate pat­terns are woven with glass beads. Zeng looms are made of 6 bam­boo poles and are eas­i­ly trans­portable. The Ta Oi are indige­nous to the Cen­tral High­lands of Viet­nam as well as neigh­bor­ing Laos. Kan Pra (pic­tured) walked from Laos with her fam­i­ly many years ago.

Cham Ethnic Group

Woman from the Cham Ethnic minority group Vietnam

Sáu, 103, Cham Eth­nic Group. Phan Rang, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

Begin­ning in the sec­ond Cen­tu­ry AD and last­ing over 1,500 years the Cham ruled a large part of Cen­tral and South­ern Viet­nam known as “Cham­pa”. Rem­nants of this ancient king­dom can be found in brick tem­ples across Cen­tral and South­ern Viet­nam. The Cham peo­ple retain a rich and diverse cul­ture and have the dis­tinc­tion of being one of the few cul­tures who still make pot­tery by hand with­out a pot­tery wheel.

Ha Nhi Ethnic Group

Woman from the Black Ha Nhi Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Trụ, Hà Nhì Eth­nic Group. Lao Cai, (North­ern) Vietnam

The Black Ha Nhi are known for their dis­tinc­tive tra­di­tion­al cloth­ing adorned with wind­ing blue lines sym­bol­iz­ing moun­tains and rice ter­races. They con­tin­ue to build their hous­es in the tra­di­tion­al man­ner using earth and grass. Thick walls and only 1 door, keep the struc­tures cool in the sum­mer and warm in the win­ter. Anoth­er unique fea­ture of the Ha Nhi peo­ple is the wool head­dress worn by women. In the past women would use real hair attached as hair exten­sions and per­haps horse hair. Now it is pri­mar­i­ly black wool fiber, woven in a braid. 

Phu La Ethnic Group

Girl from the Phu La in Vietnam

Cốc, 7, Phu La Eth­nic Group. North­ern Vietnam

The Phu La migrat­ed to Viet­nam many cen­turies ago. Though orig­i­nal­ly from bor­der­ing Chi­na, the Phu La in Viet­nam now great­ly out­num­ber their cousins across the bor­der. They are one of the six Tibeto-Bur­man eth­nic groups in Viet­nam. The shared nomadic her­itage of these eth­nic groups is reflect­ed in the var­i­ous pieces of cloth and adorn­ments in their tra­di­tion­al clothes.

Ma Ethnic Group

Man from the Ma Ethnic group wearing traditional clothes

Brê, Ma Eth­nic Group. Cen­tral High­lands, Vietnam

The Ma are one of the myr­i­ads of eth­nic groups indige­nous to the Cen­tral High­lands of Viet­nam. These eth­nic groups as a whole were named the “Mon­tag­nards” by the French which trans­lates to “Moun­tain Dwellers” or “Moun­tain Peo­ple”.  Tra­di­tion­al­ly men wore loin clothes (pic­tured), a cus­tom that has all but dis­ap­peared in the dai­ly lives of the Ma.

Pu Peo Ethnic Group

Pu Peo Ethnic Minority Group Vietnam Photography by Alden Anderson

Nhiến, 80 & Là, 87, Pu Péo Eth­nic Group. Ha Giang, (North­ern) Vietnam

With 903 peo­ple in Viet­nam (2019 cen­sus), the Pu Peo are the 4th small­est eth­nic group in the coun­try. They most­ly live in small vil­lages in Ha Giang province of North­ern Viet­nam close to the bor­der with Chi­na. Here, many cus­toms of the Pu Peo are still prac­ticed includ­ing mak­ing their own tra­di­tion­al clothes. Nhiến, 80, & Là, 87 are sis­ters-in-law and are wear­ing their hand­made tra­di­tion­al clothes com­plete with beau­ti­ful­ly embroi­dered shoes!

Brau Ethnic Group

Woman from the Brau Ethnic Minority Group in Vietnam

Pe, 90, Brâu Eth­nic Group. Kon Tum, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

Girl from the Brau Ethnic Minority Group in Vietnam

Y Scon, 8, Brâu Eth­nic Group. Kon Tum, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

The Brau are one of the few eth­nic groups in Viet­nam where women still have elon­gat­ed ear­lobes and filled teeth. How­ev­er, these prac­tices are no longer con­tin­ued amongst the younger mem­bers of the tribe. The Brau in Viet­nam most­ly reside in one small vil­lage near the bor­der with Laos and Cam­bo­dia, where they also live. With 525 Brau in Viet­nam, they are the sec­ond small­est eth­nic group in the country. 

Pa Then Ethnic Group

Woman from the Pa Then ethnic mionority group in North Vietnam

Trường, 21,  Pa Then Eth­nic Group. Ha Giang, (North­ern) Vietnam

One of the most strik­ing fea­tures of the Pa Then tra­di­tion­al cloth­ing is their unique head­dress worn by Pa Then women. A long, thin, intri­cate­ly hand­wo­ven cloth that is tight­ly wrapped around a wom­an’s head. The Pa Then are well known for their fire danc­ing fes­ti­val. With very spe­cif­ic rit­u­als a Pa Then Shaman will invoke spir­its that enable a par­tic­i­pant to walk across glow­ing hot coals.

Xa Phang Ethnic Group

Xa Phang Hoa ethnic minority group Vietnam

While con­sid­ered part of the much larg­er Hoa (Chi­nese) eth­nic minor­i­ty group in Viet­nam the Xa Phang have a very rich cul­ture of their own which includes mak­ing their tra­di­tion­al clothes by hand.  When we vis­it­ed their vil­lage, each per­son we spoke to had their tra­di­tion­al clothes (includ­ing shoes), even the youngest chil­dren! The tra­di­tions of mak­ing clothes are passed down through each generation.

Ra Glai Ethnic Group

Raglai Ethnic Minority Group Photography Vietnam

Xrim, 93, Raglai Eth­nic Group. Ninh Thuan, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

The ances­tors of the Ra Glai, like oth­er Aus­trone­sian eth­nic groups, can be traced back to pre-Han Tai­wan some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.  Their ances­tors were the nomads of the sea and set out from Tai­wan on a great seaborne migra­tion, which brought them first to the Phillip­ines before even­tu­al­ly set­tling in Viet­nam.  Today the Ra Glai most­ly reside in Cen­tral Viet­nam near the coast. 

Co Tu Ethnic Group

Co Tu - Katu man, Vietnam

Co Tu Eth­nic Group. Quang Nam, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

Tra­di­tion­al­ly CoTu men wore a loin­cloth while in cold­er weath­er they could wear a spe­cial shirt made from the bark of a tree. Mak­ing a tree bark shirt is a process that has almost com­plete­ly dis­ap­peared prob­a­bly due to the amount of work it requires and the rel­a­tive ease in obtain­ing more “mod­ern” tex­tiles. How­ev­er, they do still con­tin­ue the tra­di­tion of weav­ing fab­ric by hand on looms much like their high­land neigh­bors the Ta Oi.

Khmer Ethnic Group

Khmer Ethnic Minority Vietnam

Khmer Eth­nic Group. An Giang, (South) Vietnam

The Khmer in Viet­nam are con­cen­trat­ed in the South near bor­der­ing Cam­bo­dia. They still con­tin­ue their tra­di­tion of weav­ing silk cloth by hand in beau­ti­ful intri­cate pat­terns. The Khmer have close ties with the Khmer in Cam­bo­dia, shar­ing lan­guage, cul­ture and cus­toms. With over 1.3 mil­lion Khmer in Viet­nam, they are the 5th largest eth­nic minor­i­ty group in the country. 

Xo Dang Ethnic Group

Xo Dang Ethnic Group Vietnam

Yem, 108, Xo Dang Eth­nic Group. Kon Tum, (Cen­tral) Vietnam

The Xo Dang (Sedang) are well known for their met­al­lur­gy and smelt­ing tech­niques as well as oth­er craft­ing abil­i­ties (all of the cloth­ing worn by grand­ma Yem is hand­made). Like their Cen­tral High­land neigh­bors the Ba Na, the Xo Dang peo­ple have tra­di­tion­al­ly lived in stilt hous­es with the largest house with a long slop­ing roof (Rong) used as a cen­tral meet­ing place for the mem­bers of the village.

Cho Ro Ethnic Group

Man from the Cho Ro ethnic minority group in Vietnam

Liệt, 78, Cho Ro Eth­nic Group. Đồng Nai, (South) Vietnam

The Cho Ro are indege­nous to the Cen­tral High­lands of Viet­nam. They still con­tin­ue their musi­cal tra­di­tions includ­ing brass gongs. Liệt (pic­tured) plays a tra­di­tion­al musi­cal instru­ment con­struct­ed of bam­boo and met­al strings. His clothes are hand woven in the tra­di­tion­al pat­tern on the Cho Ro. These pater­ns sym­bol­ize dif­fer­ent ani­mals of the for­est, reveal­ing the Cho Ro’s close rela­tion­ship with the nat­ur­al world.

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