Tay’s traditional stilt house

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.

Water terrace

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…
Drying place

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.

Fire place

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 😀

Ascestor altar

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.

A window

Under the floor, Tay people usually keep farm furniture, such as, ploughs, rakes, mortars, wooden mallets…
wooden mortar

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.


Looking for mother/ Tìm mẹ

Once upon a time, in a small village, there was a poor family. When the first child was born, the father said: “As we have worked hard for the whole life, we still can’t have a house. We should name him House, hope he will have a house to live.” And the mother cried and agreed with him: “Let name him House”.

After some years, their daughter was born. The father said: “As we have worked hard all days, we still can’t have enough rice to eat. We should name her Rice, hope she will have enough rice in her life.” The mother again agreed with him. “Let name her Rice” – she said while tears were on her face.

The couple worked hard all days and nights. The father worked on the field in the daytime. At night, he went to the forest to hunt. All rice he planted, he had to give to the Lord of the village. All animals he hunted, he also had to bring to the Lord of the village. The mother went to catch fish and snails. All fish and snails she got, she had to bring to the Lord of the village. The Lord of the village returned them only a little of what they brought to him. “If it stays this way, our House will never have a house and our Rice will never have rice” – the father said. The mother cried for her children. Then, the father continued: “We can bear that but our children, how could they stand such situation? We have to try to have a house for them, to have rice for them!” However, no matter they tried, they still gained nothing – everything had to give to the Lord of the village and the greedy Lord gave they nothing.

One winter day, when House cried hard for cold and Rice cried hard for hunger, the father came to the village Lord and asked him for a bit of rice to feed his children. The Lord got angry and shouted at him: “Everything on this land is mine. How dare you come here and ask for anything? Go away!” He asked his servants to get the father out of his house. The father had to leave without rice. However, the Lord suddenly thought that if the poor man dared to come here and asked him for rice, he must dare to steal his rice. So, the Lord rode his horse to go after the father. He saw the father crying while walking, he killed the poor father and pushed him down into a cave. The Lord thought no one could know what he did. But in the cave, the father cried for the last time: “Oh God, the Lord of the village killed me!” Leaves of the forest whispered: “The Lord of the village killed a man.” Mountains whispered: “The Lord of the village killed a man.”

While riding home, the Lord suddenly thought: “His wife and his children could know about this, I’d better kill them too.” So he turned his horse to look for the poor mother and her children.

At that time, on the mountain, under the shadow of a huge tree, the mother was holding her children. House and Rice were too hungry, they kept crying. The mother did not know what she should do. Suddenly, she felt hurt in her heart, she wondered what happened. She tried to sing a lullaby to help her children sleep. She hoped that when they woke up, their father came and brought some rice for them. Some lice kept sucking her, she said to them: “Please suck me, do not suck my children!” The lice said: “The Lord of the village sent us here to kill you. Now we sucked all your blood, we will leave.” So they left. Only the smallest louse stayed and told the mother: “Poor you, the Lord of the village killed your husband, and now he is coming to kill you and your children. You should run right now otherwise it will be too late. I will stay with you to take care of your children.”

The mother woke her children up. Holding Rice in her arms and House on her back, the louse on her clothes, she tried to come to higher place. House asked his mother: “Oh mother, I’m too cold. Where are we going? Where is father?” Rice asked the mother: “Oh mother, I’m too hungry. Where are we going? Where is father?” The mother told her children to be silent, the Lord of the village was going after them and he tried to kill them all. The children were too scared.

Bring her children with her, the mother thought that going to higher place, the Lord of the village may not get them but she did not know how to find food for her children. The louse said: “Soon you will pass the cave of grandpa Stone, you should ask him a bit of rice.” When the mother passed the cave of the grandpa Stone, she did not dare to ask. The grandpa Stone gave her his basket of rice: “Take this to feed your children. You should go quickly! The Lord of the village has come near here already.” The mother thanked him.

She kept hiking. Her legs and her hand got hurt because of the sharp rocks and thorns of many trees but she did not know. The sun rose when they got to a high mountain. Staying there, their village looked as small as a hand. The mother said: “This is very high. Perhaps the Lord and his servants can’t come here.” House said: “Oh mother, they can. The other day I came here with grandpa Stone to cut down big trees, servants of the Lord came and took all wood we had. The mother said: “We have to go higher.” House told her that he could walk by himself – “I’m grown up, mother” – he said. At that time, they heard the sound of the Lord’s horse.

So the mother kept Rice on her back and ran with her son to higher mountains. The louse was still on her clothes. When they came to a top of another mountain, their village looked as small as a finger nail. The mother asked House: “Dear, do you know this mountain?” He answered: “Yes, mother. One day I came here with grandpa Stone to cut some rattan. The Lord of the village came after us and robbed all the rattan. The mother got terrified: “We have to go higher place!” Rice told her: “Mother, let me go by myself, I’m grown up now.” So House took Rice’s hand, ran ahead and the mother with the basket of rice ran after them. The louse was still on her clothes.

They reached the top of another mountain. From there, they didn’t see their village, only white cloud around them. The mother asked her son: “Dear, do you know this mountain?” House answered: “No, mother. I’ve never come here.” So she decided to stay under shadow of a tree. House and Rice sat on her laps, slept easily because they were too tired. Looking at her children, the mother cried: “Staying here, the Lord of the village cannot get us but if I stay, I will eat my children’s rice. I have to go to find more rice for them.” Therefore she gently put their children on some leaves on the ground and hang the basket of rice on the tree, put a dried branch of tree next to her children. She took off her old shirt, covered her children. She still could not walk away. The louse whispered:
-You should go to look for more rice for them. You should be hurry. If you see the Lord of the village, turn into the rattan forest. The forest will protect you. The Lord rides horse, he won’t be able go in there.
-Will the Lord come here?
– If he sees you, he will chase after you and won’t come here. Don’t worry.
– If he still comes here?
– So I’ll fight against him.

The mother went down. She heard the sound of the Lord’s horse, she saw him. The mother ran into rattan forest. The Lord of the village went after her but his horse couldn’t go because rattan tied its legs. The Lord left his horse and ran after the mother by himself. Rattan gave the mother a road but they scratched the Lord’s body, tore his clothes by thorns. The mother tried to run. The Lord could not go further, he had to go back and took his horse. His face and his body were bleeding, he was so angry.

When House and Rice woke up, they didn’t saw their mother. Rice cried, House told his sister: “Don’t cry, our mother soon will come back, dear.” He called out for his mother. The louse pretended the mother voice called back to him. He said to her sister: “Mother is near here. Don’t worry.” Then he saw the basket of rice, he used the dried branch tree to take some rice for Rice and for himself. The louse lulled them to sleep.

The Lord intended to come back to the village, suddenly he heard someone sing lullaby. He turned his horse to look for. The louse heard the sound of the Lord’s horse, it left the children, came down the mountain. The Lord followed the voice he heard, only saw a small louse. He asked if it saw the mother and her children – he asked for 3 times, and 3 times the louse said no. He was too angry, he picked the louse up and put it into his mouth, swallowed it. The louse said to him: “You killed a man, now you kill a louse. You are too wicked. You do not deserve to be a human!” The Lord turned into a tiger. The tiger was so terrified, ran into the forest. One day, the tiger saw a young woman working in the forest. It scared her and forced her to come to its cave to be its wife.

Since the Lord turned into the tiger, people in the village lived more easily but the tiger requested them give it a liver of pig or buffalo every day or it would kill people. Villagers were so angry but they could not kill the tiger so they had to obey its request. Every day, they put a liver next to the stream of the village and the tiger came to take it.

About House and Rice, they ate all rice in the basket but their mother did not come back. Rice cried a lot. House decided to come back to the village to look for their mother and find some rice for his sister. When they came to the stream, they saw a pig liver. House took the liver, made fire as grandpa Stone had taught him and roasted liver for his sister. The tiger came to take the liver but didn’t find it. The liger looked around. It saw the children but could not catch them because House played trick on it. It came back to the cave and told its wife that she had to come to the stream and bring the children home if she did not want to be killed.

The woman cried and went to the stream. House and Rice saw a woman crying beside the stream. They came to her and asked what happened to her. She told the children her story and said that she could not let the tiger kill them. Rice asked her to help them find their mother. The woman thought and found her own plan. She told the children hide into her long dress. She came back and told the tiger she could not find the children. She said she was pregnant and prepared to bear a child so the tiger should give her private. The tiger did not come to her place for some days. The woman and the two children planned to kill the tiger.

When the tiger asked her if she gave birth to a human baby or a tiger, she said that were two human babies. The tiger wanted to eat their livers but she told it to wait for more time because their livers were too small to eat. Tiger said it would wait for three more days. House told the woman to come to the stream, cut a part of liver that villagers left there and gave it to the tiger, told it that human liver was smaller than buffalo liver. He also told her to hide three sharp thorns into the liver. She did as House said. The tiger swallowed the liver, thorns in the liver scratched its stomach. The tiger died. They buried it and came back to the village.

They did not meet the mother. She got lost and went to somewhere else. Rice missed her too much. She hung her mother’s shirt and cried hard. The woman cried too as she did not know how to find their mother. House found a nut of mango, he buried it into ground and said: “Grow mango, and help us to find our mother”. The mango soon grew. Only one day after that, it became a huge tree with many fruits. Many birds came to the mango, wanted to eat some fruit. House asked them if they knew where his mother was. Those birds did not know. One day, an eagle came to the mango tree. House asked it the same question. The eagle said that it knew a woman looked like House and his sister very much, she got lost and did not know how to come back to her village. House invited it to eat mango and asked it to help him find his mother. The eagle agreed.

The eagle let House and Rice sat on its back and flew away to find their mother. It flied to a far place, stopped on the bank of a river. It said that their mother usually came there to wash her face. It put the children on a branch of a banyan tree and told them waited there, if they saw a woman that looked like them, that would be there mother. Then the eagle flew away. The two children waited and waited. They saw their faces reflected in the river water – the two faces looked exactly the same. Many women came to the river to wash their faces but they didn’t see anyone looked like them. Finally, a woman came to the river. The children saw a face looked like their faces. The woman also saw their face reflected in the water. She looked up and called for them. The mother and her children met. They were too happy that tears wet their faces.

The mother and her children came back to their village. One the way, House and Rice told their mother what had happened to them since she went. The mother said: “The Lord of the village died. So did the tiger. Now we are together again. House will have house and Rice will have rice, my dear children.” They lived happily ever after.

5th year

Yeah, it’s 5 years since I decided to have a blog here and wrote my first entry – January 15, 2008. At that time, I just thought it would be fun and useful somehow if I had a blog on Opera because I saw so many wonderful entries here and there – and it is so right. This blog has brought many good friends to me, gives me chances to learn many things, to share my thought, my feeling and many things in my life.
I’m happy to be here. Hope you are happy, too :cheers:

Real winter ;)

It has been very cold for a week up to now. I keep checking the weather forecast website and hear that it will be cold like this for some more days. Ok, for many of you 10C is nice for spring but it is like hell for a tropical fruit, haha. My fingers quickly get frozen although they are covered by thick gloves. And some of my toes start to complain no matter how I have tried to keep them warm. However I do not worry too much as I know how to bring sunshine into my tiny corner: