As many of you know, Vietnam is a multi-ethnic country. There are 54 ethnic groups in the official list. Each group has its own language, lifestyle. At many places, many ethnic groups live in a same village or their villages are beside each other. It’s easy to go to a Tay village and meet Kinh people, marriages between different ethnics are very popular. That’s why I have been used to with other ethnic people since I was a child. My village is between a Cao Lan’s village and a Tay’s village, and it is near to a Nung’s village. I had many friends who could teach me their languages (which I forgot now, what a shame!), took me to their home to play. We used to bring many kinds of fruits to school to share. Coming to their stilt houses, I really enjoyed sleeping on the bamboo or palm floors, felt the wind blowing my hair. However, I was too busy playing, eating and sleeping there to care about the structure of their house or their custom. Anyway, my friends used to tell me something I should and should not do at their house before we came, so their parents were always satisfied with me. Well, we never broke their rules… when they were watching us, of course.
Perhaps the sweet memory is one of reasons that I have kept coming to visit Vietnam museum of ethnology since I moved to Hanoi. The museum has an interesting collection of traditional houses of many ethnic groups in Vietnam. I hope soon it will have traditional houses of all ethnics. In this entry, I’ll tell you something I know about Tay’s traditional house.
Tay is the second largest group in my country after Viet group. If the Ede longhouse is my most favorite one, the house of Tay ethnic is the one that always calms me down, gives me peace when I am tired, stressful.
Tay’s traditional stilt house at Vietnam museum of ethnology
Tay house is usually built near to watercourses, at a foot mountain or alongside a river or spring. The house is surrounded by paddy field, palms, bamboo and other kinds of trees.
According to the museum, “The house has three main sections and two extensions, with the four inside columns and two at the tops carved to look like lotus flowers.” We can see all parts of the house in the picture below:
General arrangement drawing of Tay house in the museum
Tay house has many wooden pillars which form the shape of the house. It doesn’t have a real wall as all the walls of the house are made of woven bamboo pieces. These panels are easy to open to welcome wind into the house on hot days of summer. The thick palm leaf roof helps to keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter, too. The roof required almost 6.000 palm leaves. It is long and big enough to keep the sunshine not go directly into the house through bamboo wall.
Palm leaf roof
A bamboo fence is around the house. Going thru a bamboo gate, we’ll enter the dwelling area.
The house – a flower made of wood, bamboo and palm leaves
Near to the gate is a small palm shine dedicate to the God of land:
A wooden staircase leads us into the house. The staircase is very important to Tay people. To step on the staircase to enter the house, everyone has to wash their feet clean first, using water from a bamboo tube next to the staircase.
Bamboo tube with water to clean your feet before entering the house (every family always has to keep it full of water)
People also remember to take off their shoes. When greeting important guests, the house owner usually come down to invite them. The owner is also behind guests when walking up the staircase to protect them and guide them into his house.
The staircase – the number of stair is always an odd number, usually 9 or 11
At the top of the staircase is the “water terrace”. The terrace is made of bamboo or pieces of palm trees. As the name of it, people keep water there. It’s also place to wash everything to prepare to cook, place to bath, washing hair… On rainy days or hot days, it’s also the place that women sit to sew clothes and men to sharpen their knives. Sitting there on a hot day you’ll see how wonderful a stilt house is for sure.
Staircase and terrace are also the area that the daughters of the owner and their boyfriends sit and talk in evenings.
Next to the terrace is drying place (drying yard) where people use to put things that need to be dried such as raw corn, manioc roots…
Entering the house, you’ll step on bamboo floor. People usually sit right on the bamboo floor to discuss things. Therefore, you usually don’t see too many tables and chairs in a Tay’s house.
A look from the door
Near the door, it is the pantry area, husked rice granary, newlywed’s room and finally another granary to keep rice and other things. They are arranged along the bamboo wall. That is considered as the back part of the house, the front part of the house is sleeping area.
A part of sleeping area – look from center of the house
People usually sleep on mats which are covered bamboo floor. It seems like Ede longhouse, you don’t see any bed in their bedrooms. If there are old people living in the house, their sleeping places are made of wood and put higher than others’ sleeping places to show the respect of the family.
Sleeping place of an old person in the family
The pantry was designed with two parts look like two drawers:
On the higher part are many bowls, knives, pots…
But the interesting thing in pantry area to me is the other part: you can see many wooden things, such as, wooden bowls, wooden basket, wooden tray, wooden sink… even wooden sandals.
On a wall of the pantry room has a small altar of kitchen God. People believe that the kitchen God take care of their family’s activities.
Opposite the pantry room is the kitchen, or I’d better said: fire place. So it’s easy to find something you need when cooking, I think. The fire place is considered the heart of the house.
It is not only where people cook every day but also the place for people to sit around and talk together. Family stories are usually shared here. When neighbors come to their house, they also sit around the fire to talk. Tay people avoid yelling at others in the house, especially in kitchen place. They believe that if family members argue or shout at each others, they are insulting their ancestor and Gods of the house so they will be punished in many ways, such as being sick or getting bad luck.
In winter, they keep the fire all the time to keep the house warm. People hang many things above the fire to keep them dry so they can use them longer. It is like a small storage:
Newlywed’s room or other name is the bride’s room is a special place for the new bride.
Inside the Newlywed’s room
When a son in the family gets married, his wife will sleep there. On the wedding day, the bride sleeps together with her bridesmaid. Only from the second day, the couple can share the bed. Except her husband, no man is allowed to come into the bride’s room. That’s why sometimes you may see many men at home but they still go to the paddy field to call the mother come home when her baby cry – well, she forgot to take him out of the bride’s room before going to work 😀
Guests or women in the family who have just given birth are not allowed to sit or sleep in front of ancestor altar.
Another thing I love is that in a Tay traditional house, we can see many windows which are opened to bring wind and light into the house.
Under the floor, Tay people usually keep farm furniture, such as, ploughs, rakes, mortars, wooden mallets…
Under the floor
When coming to a Tay house during Tet (New Year Days), you can see many red papers on ancestor altar, wall and other things. Tay people believe these red papers will bring good luck into the family and protect them from bad spirits. They also have wonderful songs singing to welcome spring. Perhaps you’ll want to visit them one day.