Tomb house of the Co Tu

A tomb house built on the grave of a dead person is typical of folk belief of the Co Tu ethnic minority who live in Vietnam’s central region.

A tomb house of the Co Tu in Thua Thien-Hue province

A tomb house of the Co Tu in Thua Thien-Hue province

The house of a dead person is decorated with wood statues and the household utensils he used when he was alive.

The Co Tu believe that the souls of the dead become deities who will protect their families and fellow villagers and bless them with good luck, good health, and bumper crops.

There are original tomb houses of the Co Tu preserved in Nam Dong district, Thua Thien-Hue province.

A tomb house is a square or rectangular wooden structure. The pillars and roof are carved with images of animals such as birds and reptiles. The wood coffin in the shape of a boat is carved with flowery patterns and buffalo heads, a symbol of power and sufficiency.

The Co Tu say dead people want to bring their customs and culture to the other world. Before they die, they ask their children to prepare wood statues to place on their coffin and around their tomb.

Pham Van Tin in Nam Dong district says that when the coffin is placed in the tomb, the relatives set a wooden tray and 4 statues on the coffin to show their gratitude to the dead person. Tombs for men and women are different.

“Tombs for women are decorated with pig heads. Other animal heads are for men. Carved figures on the coffin are carefully made and clearly visible,” Tin said.


Artisans select durable kinds of wood to make statues and paint them with natural colors extracted from leaves and flowers. They grind stones into powder to coat the statues. The statues express the sadness and grief felt when a relative has gone forever. There are also statues of people performing daily activities, such as men playing drums and flutes and women dancing.

A Co Tu man is carving a buffalo head for a tomb house.

A Co Tu man is carving a buffalo head for a tomb house.

Le Nhu Suu, Head of Nam Dong district’s Office of Culture and Information, said the tomb house and statues reflect the beliefs of the Co Tu.

Co Tu tombs have gone through many changes. It’s costly to build a tomb and the number of artisans able to carve traditional statues is decreasing. Thua Thien-Hue province has carried out projects to help Co Tu people preserve their traditions, particularly their tomb house and statues.

“We are preserving the original cultural values of the Co Tu. Revitalizing and promoting traditions of the Co Tu, including the tomb houses, honors their spiritual life and shows the gratitude of the living for the dead,” Suu said.

The Co Tu population is estimated at more than 60,000, living mostly in Thua Thien-Hue and Quang Nam provinces, along the Truong Son range. VOV5