Binh Liêu, a mountainous district attached to the northern province of Quang Ninh, has a population made up of 96% ethnic minorities. It has yet another peculiarity: in its schools, students and teachers dress in the traditional way.
|A class in traditional costumes.|
It became a habit. During the first week of the month and every Monday and Friday of the remaining weeks, Binh Liêu students and teachers wear their traditional costumes to school. Each has its own patterns and colours, which makes the schoolyard a pretty mosaic of local cultural diversity, as Luc Thanh Thuy, a Tày teacher from Huc Dông primary school, points out.
“I am happy and proud of this way of claiming our identity, which is an excellent way to raise awareness among students.“, she says.
Wearing traditional costumes at school has been compulsory since the 2015-2016 school year. The schools of Hoành Mô and Dông Van were the first establishments to apply it. Very quickly, the obligation became a shared pleasure, affirms Tô Dinh Hiêu, deputy director of the information center of the district.
“At first, people were rather reluctant. They used to dress in Western style, which is still much more practical. But the awareness-raising work paid off and the parents of students encouraged their children to wear their traditional costumes to claim their identity. Moreover, at the time, adults were already used to wearing their traditional costumes on special occasions, with the exception of students at school. The mothers and big sisters then decided to make some for the little ones“, he says.
Recently, the district of Binh Liêu organized for the first time a contest intended to find the person who parades best in traditional costume. Most of the participants were students, who were invited to share their knowledge of the clothing art of their respective ethnic groups. Chu Mùi Duong, a Dao and Hoàng Thi Lan, a San Chi, were there.
|Binh Liêu organizes a competition to find the person who parades best in traditional costume.|
“At my school, there are many Dao and other ethnic communities. But it’s our Dao costumes that are the most colorful and elaborate. I am proud of my costume which makes me stand out compared to others“, said the first.
“We San Chi are used to dressing in the traditional way on special occasions, such as New Year’s and weddings, but more and more people are doing it to go to the fields, to the forest and even to play football“, indicates the second.
Inspired by the school environment, civil servants and the population in general have taken a liking to tradition, and above all to the possibilities of updating it. The Tày, who represent half of the local population, thus had the idea of replacing the traditional fabric, which is rather hard, with softer and therefore more comfortable fabrics, while maintaining the original shape. The result is that the Tày now wear their traditional costumes whenever they can, says Nguyên Thi Tuyêt Hanh, president of the popular committee of Binh Liêu, herself Tày.
“It is a beautiful cultural tradition that we absolutely want to preserve and enhance, especially since cultural wealth is a major resource for local socio-economic development, in particular tourism.“, she declares.
Along with language and customs, costumes are part of the cultural identity of a people. Whether sophisticated and colorful like those of the Dao, or simple and monochromatic like those of the Tày and San Chi, these garments are full of cultural and historical stories. The pleasure that today’s ethnic communities take in perpetuating the art of traditional dress is therefore a sign of their attachment to their identity, and more generally, to the country.