The long-standing tradition of the Red Dao ethnic community

Those women in Quang Ha Village, Nam N’Dir Commune came together to establish a group for embordering and making traditional products of the Red Dao people. The group’s products are made not only to serve their families’ demand but are also on sale for visitors as a way to improve their incomes.

Through the skilful hands of the group’s members, pieces of plain indigo cloths are vitalised with colourful and sophisticated patterns in shapes of flowers, leaves and other lively images, which are typical decorative patterns of Red Dao people.

The group was founded by 68-year-old Trieu Thi Mu, a woman from Tuyen Quang Province. Despite her old age, she has still been enthusiastic in teaching the craft to anyone who has an interest in Red Dao people’s practice of weaving. She said that she has practiced the craft under the instruction of her mother since she was a little girl.

As a long-standing tradition in the community, every Red Dao girl is taught tailoring, needling, dyeing and sewing so that she can make embroidery items, from simple items such as bags, hats and scarves to more complicated ones such as outfits for festivals and wedding dresses. Before getting married, a Red Dao ethnic woman must complete her own traditional outfit.

“I love traditional outfits of my ethnic group,” Mu said, adding that each motif and pattern is kept so lively in her mind that she can provide her descendants and learners with detailed instructions on how to embroider them beautifully no matter how long she has lived away from her hometown.

However, she went on saying with a sigh that fewer Red Dao girls want to learn about embroidery nowadays. In addition, the group’s products are less consumable as they face fierce competitiveness from mass produced products. A traditional wedding outfit of a Red Dao ethnic bride can be sold at only VND2 million although it often takes months to complete.

The old woman even wonders if a day will come when no Red Dao woman has any idea of what embroidery is.

Taking actions to revitalise a traditional craft

Red Dao ethnic women dressed in their traditional hand-made embroidery costumes (Photo: NDO/Thuy Vu)

With the birth of modern machines, Trieu Thi Chai, a member of the village’s embroidery group, is afraid that traditional handicraft embroidery will fall into oblivion unless practical efforts and actions are made to safeguard the craft.

She said that young Dao ethnics now aren’t patient enough to spend months in embordering to make an outfit for themselves.

In a bid to preserve a time-honoured traditional craft of her ethnic group, Mu and other skilful embroider craftswomen in the village have taken action to attract more attention and interest from Red Dao young woman towards embroidery.

As a result, all of her descendants and Red Dao women in Quang Ha Village in general can now master of embroidery. Many of them can well execute all items for a traditional wedding outfit of Red Dao people, the most challenging and difficult lesson in embroidery for every learner.

One of the them is 20-year-old Trieu Thi Lu, who joined a teaching class of the village’s embroidery group. It took Lu three months to embroider basic stiches, and a year to master her techniques and skills in embroidery.

Making embroidery products for her family by herself is an encouraging start for Lu to preserve and uphold the traditional craft of her ethnic group. Lu has now become an active member of the embroidery group, assisting the veteran members in teaching the craft to the freshers.

Sang Thi Chau, another attendant at the class hailed that Trieu Thi Mu and Trieu Thi Chai as the two best embroiderers in the village, adding that she was happy to receive the instruction from the two talented instructors. “I’m proud of having traditional costumes which are made by myself”, Chau said.

Vice Chairwoman of Dak Nong Provincial People’s Committee Ton Thi Ngoc Hanh said that Red Dao ethnic community has contributed to enriching the diversity of culture in Dak Nong Province through their efforts to promote their traditional embroidery craft.

Red Dao people’s embroidery products have been introduced at the province’s annual brocade festival, attracting much interest from domestic and foreign festival goers alike.