Monday, July 15, 2013

Culture – Fire Walking in Red Dao Village

On a recent trip to Sapa, it was beyond my wildest dreams that I would find myself in an episode of National Geographic. After all these years of tourism to Sapa, it is very uplifting to find some villages so unaffected by tourism and retaining rich culture and traditions.

Red Dao people in Sapa, Vietnam
After arriving in Sapa on a crisp, clear spring morning, I made my way to a beautiful ecolodge located in Thanh Kim, 20km outside of Sapa, surrounded by Hmong, Tay and Red Dao villages. After spending a day trekking and cycling through dramatic landscapes, I had an unexpected invitation to a Red Dao village to join in their TET (Vietnamese lunar New Year) celebrations. The tables were turned when I arrived at the simple wood-hut village and was greeted by over 100 set of eyes – fixated on me and my foreign appearance. Sometimes as a traveler, I feel like such a voyeur, so it was enlightening to experience a role reversal.

The celebrations involved praying to ancestors and ceremonial dancing to ensure a fruitful year of rice in the upcoming harvest. All the men in the village with the surname “Lee” were involved in these prayers which sent them into a trance-like state before they jumped into a fire and walked on hot coals. YES – WALKED ON HOT COALS. This experience was a feast for my senses….drums beating, fire roaring, chanting and singing, electric-red traditional head dress and the glares and giggles of the children as they tugged on my arms and touched my foreign skin. The ceremony continued for 5 hours, with more dancing, fire walking, beating of drums and the scattering of rice. The Dao ethnic minority is incredibly diverse in all aspects of life: social and religious practices, architecture, agriculture and dress. Rows of terraced rice fields zigzag up steep mountains, creating breathtaking views in an area where farming remains the major source of income. Rice is still the staple crop and this annual ceremony is a very important part of the Dao calendar to ensure a plentiful harvest.

Dao people
Dao people came to Vietnam some six centuries ago and now number around 500,000 in Vietnam, with related groups in Laos, Thailand and China. They 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 tasseled shoulder bags. Dao women wear elaborate headgear, usually a triangular-shaped turban, either embroidered or decorated with silver coins, beads and colored tassels. It’s also common for Dao women to shave their eyebrows and sometimes the whole head, coating the skull with wax.

So to discover this Red Dao village, still so rich in tradition – without televisions and coca cola – was exciting. It was exciting to see that in 2006, travelers can still step into their own personal  Discovery channel. But we must ensure this is how we leave it. To be sensitive and respectful of these local cultures so our children can have the same experiences and our world can continue to be a melting pot of traditions and cultures.

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Source: Internet
Recomment Trek in the trekking paradise - Sapa Trekking & Homestay from ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA 
For our Sapa Remote Trek tour, please click here.


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