The Colao ethnic group culture and customs

Proper name: Colao

Other names: Tu Du, House Ki and Voa De.

Population: 1,473 people

Local groups:  Colao Sanh (or green Colao), Colao Trang (white Colao), and Colao Do (red Colao)

Language: Colao language belongs to the Kadai group, which also includes La Ha, La chi and Pupeo languages (part of the Tai-Kadai language family). In the past, local Colao sub-groups spoke different dialects. Nowadays, however, they no longer use their own mother tongues. Instead, they speak Cantonese, Pupeo and Hmong languages.

History: The Colao came to Vietnam about 150-200 years ago.

Production activities: The Colao people who live in high, rocky, mountainous areas practice slash-and-burn agriculture, cultivating swidden fields and growing maize in mountain rocky hollows. Corn is the main crop. They also grow beans, wheat, peas, kohlrabi, etc. the Colao use cattle manure, ashes and fertilizers for enhancing the soil. Ash is put into the rocky hollows after corn seeds are inserted. Some Colao who live in lowland areas cultivate terraced rice fields. Rice is the main crop and food.Traditional handicrafts include basketry (flat bamboo baskets, winnowing baskets and lattices) and woodwork (desks, cases, horse saddles, coffins and containers). Many villages have blacksmiths who produce their farm tools.

Diet: The Colao eat ground corn, called men men, or rice and use wooden bowls and spoons.

Clothing: Colao women adopted Nung and Giay styles, but they usually wear longer dresses falling below the knees. Their blouses are decorated with bands of multi-colored cloth outside hem, on the front, and on the sleeves. Formerly, the White Colao and Green Colao wore an extra short-sleeved shirt outside to show the colorful patches on the inside blouses ‘sleeves.

Housing: Colao villages are generally comprised of between 15 and 20 families. The house is divided into three compartments and two lentos, with thatched roofs or roofs made of split bamboo. The red Colao also make earthen houses, as do their neighbors, the Pupeo.

Transportation: The horse is a popular means of transportation among the Colao. They also use gui (back-baskets) with two shoulder straps to transport goods and produce. The Colao usually have to carry water to their homes. In low mountainous areas, people also make ducts or a system of gutters to bring water to their own homes.

Social organization: Each Colao sub-group has its own definite family lineages, such as Van, House, Senh and Chao (among White Colao), Min, Cao, and Su Li (Red Colao) and Sang (Green Colao). If a family does not have a son, it is likely they will let their daughter marry a local boy and allow him to stay with them. The son-in-law is entitled to inherit the property of his wife’s family. He must set up an altar for both his wife’s parents and his own ancestors.

Marriage: Marriages are different among the Colao sub-groups. According to Green Colao traditions, the bridegroom wears a long green vest and a red band of cloth draped over the shoulder. The bride must wear her hair with s chignon or bun on the top of their head. When she reaches the husband’s home, she stops at the gate and steps on a bowl and spoon which were intentionally placed on the ground. She stays at her husband’s house the first night. Wife seizing customs also occur in some Colao areas, similar to custom practiced by the H’mong.

Birth: The Colao custom is to burn the placenta and put the ash in the rocky hollows. A baby boy is usually named after three days and three nights, while girls are usually named after waiting two nights and three days. In some places, grandmother gives babies their names and presents them with gifts when the babies are one month old. This is particularly the case when a child receives a name connoting respect for the ancestors or receives the name of Ghi Trenh, a protective spirit of children.

Funerals: Sometimes, two ceremonies are held in a Colao funerals-burial and the ceremony for the repose of the soul-the latter may be celebrated among the Green Colao at burial or several years later. Through prayers, it is hoped that the dead person’s spirit will return to Chan San, the homeland. According to Red Colao traditions, rocks are placed in a circle around the tomb, each circle of stones corresponding to 10 years of the deceased’s age. If the stones completely encircle the tomb, then additional stones will be placed on top as needed according to the age of the deceased.

Beliefs: The Colao believe that each person has three souls; rice, corn, and animals also have souls. The souls or spirits of rice (mother-rice, father-rice, wife-rice and husband-rice) are worshipped at the end of the harvest time and on the fifth lunar month. Ancestors of three to four generations are worshipped at home. The spirit of the earth is venerated by each family and also by the whole village.

Festivals: Like other groups in northeastern Vietnam, the Colao celebrate the Lunar New Year, and Festivals are held on the 3rd lunar month, the 5th of 5th lunar month, the 15th of the lunar month, the 9th of 9th lunar month, etc.

Education: The Chinese language is commonly used in ceremonies. Nowadays, Colao children learn Vietnamese and the national writing system. 


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