1. The Cham Ethnic Group
The Cham are concentrated in the provinces of Ninh Tuan, Binh Tuan, An Giang, Binh Dinh, Dong Nai, Phu Yen, Tay Ninh and Ho Chi Minh City. Cham houses are built on the ground, and each family have several houses clustered close together, each one consisting of a single room.
The Cham primarily practice wet rice cultivation as well as the planting of fruit orchards. There is also some dry upland cultivation among the groups living in more mountainous areas. The Cham in the south live primarily by fishing with weaving, trading and farming only making up secondary occupations. The Cham are also famous for silk weaving and handmade pottery.
Traditionally men and women alike wear wrapped skirts, and men wear shirts with short sleeves and an opening at the chest. Women wear long pullovers and the dominant colour is white. Today in daily life, most Cham wear similar clothing to the Kinh, with only older people retaining the traditional costumes.
The Cham are traditionally matriarchal, though in certain areas where they converted to Islam, they switched to a patriarchal society structure. However, the old matriarchal customs run deep and still make their impact felt in family relationships and ancestor worship.
Women take the primary position in a marriage, with a couple living with the wife’s family and children taking their mothers name. The woman’s family also offers marriage gifts to her husband’s and their marriages are monogamous.
For funerals, Cham who follow Brahmanism cremate the deceased, with their ashes buried together with their mother’s family.
The Cham developed a written language long ago, which still exists on monuments and in scripture, but today its use is limited to clergy and nobility.
The influence of the Cham when it comes to art and culture can not be understated. In addition to rich folk treasures, Central Vietnam contains hundreds of gorgeous Cham towers. The ancient Cham folk music also heavily influenced the wider Kinh and Vietnamese musical tradition, introducing aspects such as the tambourine, “Nam Ai” music and Hue folk songs.
A traditional Cham dance is performed during the Bon Kate festival at temples.
2. Chu-ru Ethnic Group
The Chu-Ru are concentrated in the districts of Don Duong, Duc Trong and Di Linh in Lam Dong province, with smaller groups living in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan.
Their main economic activity is wet rice cultivation, with two types of fields: dry fields and mud fields. Irrigation is done by ditches, dikes and dams. Hunting and gathering still play an important role as well. Popular crafts include knitting, pottery, but not weaving, meaning they traditionally purchase their clothing from neighbouring groups.
Chu-Ru houses are set on stilts made from bamboo and wood, and are organized into villages. Their society is matriarchal, with women being the head of the family and children taking their mother’s name.
After marriage, women stay with their husband’s family for half a month while her family prepares the ceremony to welcome her husband into her home, where they will then live together.
They also have a rich history of folk song and proverbs, often reflecting the status women hold in their society.
3. Ede ethnic group
The Ede are concentrated in the province of Dak Lak, the south of Gia Lai, and the west of Phu Yen and Khan Hoa. They have lived for a long time in the central highlands, and mainly practice upland cultivate with plot rotation and mixed crops. The Ede living around Bih Lak Lake also practice wet rice farming with buffalos.
Livestock and poultry are bred, but mainly for religious activities. Common crafts include knitting, cotton cultivation, and weaving, while pottery and forging is uncommon.
Traditionally women wear long skirts, and in the summer they wear short pullovers or sometimes are simply naked. Men wear a loincloth with a shirt and a short pullover. In the winter both women and men wear another layer, and silver and copper are popular materials for jewellery and beads. Though not practiced anymore, they used to have rituals to file their teeth, stretch their ears, and dye their teeth black.
Ede society is matriarchal, with children taking the name of their mother, and the youngest daughter being the heir of the family.
Villages are the basic units of society, and the head of each village is called the “Master of the water station” (po pin ea) who works on behalf of his wife to organize community activities.
Traditional houses are long and built on stilts, somewhat resembling boats. Each house is divided into two vertical sections, with the first one being the living room (called “gah”) and the second is private and reserved for the married couple (called “ok”). Each section is separated by bamboo partitions.
Women take the lead in the marriage process, and it is their responsibility to choose a partner who will then live with her family after the wedding.
If two family members die close together, they would traditionally be buried in the same grave, and funerals would consist of a grand ceremony.
Culturally the Ede have many folk tales and epics such as Dam San, Dam Kten and Mlan. Ede music is famous for the set of 6 even gongs and 3 stud gongs, as well as a gong to keep rhythm and a leather surface drum. No festival or cultural activity takes place without being set to these instruments.
4. Ja-rai ethnic group
The Ja-Rai are one of the earliest groups to inhabit the mountains of the Central Highlands, and today they are concentrated in Gia Lai, with smaller populations in the north of Dak Lak as well as Binh Dinh, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.
The main economic activity consists of upland cultivation with simple techniques like clearing fields by burning, simple hoeing and spreading of seeds. Animal husbandry is also prevalent and developed, including cattle, poultry, horses and even elephants. Common crafts are weaving and knitting and hunting, gathering and fishing all remain an important part of their economy.
Men wear loincloths with red and white stripes, and have tassels and beads on their head, as well as a shirt with a high neck and red and white stripes on the chest. Women wear long skirts with a red or white border, a dark indigo shirt decorated with stripes as well as plenty of silver jewellery. Due to the hot weather all year long, men and women alike are often naked. Villages are known as “Ploi” or “Bon” and form the basic unit of their society.
Families are organized according to matriarchy, with lineage being traced through your mother’s line. Anyone who belongs to the same maternal line can not get married. If a husband dies, the widow is allowed to marry his brother (and vice versa), and husband’s live with their wife’s family.
Ja-Rai bury people from the same maternal line in the same grave, so when a man dies he must be taken to his mother’s home and be buried together with her.
The Ja-Rai are animist, believing in many different gods, but with “Yang” taking centre stage as the god of the village and water, as well as being the King of the gods. The Ja-Rai also believe that when someone dies, they turn into a ghost, which will have to be banished by a sorcerer through a process called “ma lai”.
The biggest ceremonies among the Ja-Rai are funerals and a ceremony held when a new home is built. These include eating, singing and gongs. The Ja-Rai also have many famous epic such as Dam Di, Xinh Nha, To Rung, Krong Put and Tung Nung, all very popular.
5. Ra-glai ethnic group
The Ra-Glai are concentrated in the Ninh Son District of Ninh Tuan Province, Bac Binh District of Binh Thuan Province and in some parts of Phu Yen, southern Khan Hoa and in the mountains and valleys of Lam Dong.
Their economy is dominated by upland cultivation, but forging and weaving are common as handicrafts. They also practice some wet rice cultivation.
In the past they lived in stilt houses, but in recent years have shifted to houses located on the ground. The houses are usually constructed quite simply.
The head of the village is known as Po Pa Lay and is usually the person who was responsible for constructing the village. Their families are matriarchal and weddings consist of two stages. The most important part of a wedding is a ritual where the two families share a meal on a specific mat, signifying the first time they eat together as one family. After the wedding, the husband lives with his wife’s family.
The Ra-Glai have many tales, myths, folk songs and proverbs. They also utilize the electric guitar for their folk music, which is interesting and very unique.