International English Teaching Project

Hau Thao

The Hmong people are members of a vast transnational ethnic group, originating from mainland China. The migration of the Han Chinese to the mountain ranges of Southwest China, combined with major social unrest in the 18th and 19th century, pushed many minorities of the southern regions to move further south. Many Hmong thus settled in different parts of Indochina and in Vietnam, where they are officially called H'mông and where they have been residing since the late seventeen hundreds. 

Their transnational character is evident in the privileged position they give to their ethnic links to which they attribute their sense of belonging and the core of their collective identity. This is in fact, considered far more important than any form of citizenship and is as valid as the standard national identity. 

Their livelihoods are largely based on a blend of subsistence and commercial agriculture and complemented by the gathering of forest products. Moreover the H'mông people continuously reinvent themselves, absorbing and discarding new inputs on the basis of an interplay between agents, cultures, histories, and opportunities that may arise at any given moment. 

One of such opportunities was seen in the increased (and increasing) influx of tourists in the late 21st century. This caused the H'mông of Sa Pa District to initiate tourist based activities such as the selling of different hand-made products and the organization of trekking tours and homestays. The latters are some of the reasons why the H'mông community of Hau Thao, a small village in the Lao Cái province, expressed an interest in learning (and some improving) the English language. 

The H'mông of Sa Pa belong to the group of Black H'mông, named after the deep indigo blue dress they wear. They live across different villages immersed between mountain ranges and rice fields. Hau Thao is one of such villages; it is composed of less than 100 households, widely spread on the mountain scape. For somebody unhabituated to this kind of setting, moving around the village can be quite difficult, especially  during heavy rains in the monsoon season as roads get extremely slippery. 

The standard habitation consists of a wooden house with a large space in the middle, a cooking and fire corner, and a few rustic beds on the sides. Most of Hau Thao residences do not have western style toilets or indoor washing facilities. Bathing therefore takes place in the natural waterfalls or small streams, where some groups - such as children, young men and tourists - commonly wash themselves. However, the H'mông are very reserved people and nudity is never publicly displayed. 

The H'mông live in a truly shared space and there are no doors inside the house, except for the one constituting the main entrance. The village space is also shared with animals; each household may possess pigs, chickens, ducks, goats and buffalos that run freely around the village's paths and outdoor spaces. Daily activities are mostly conducted out in the open, for example, you may come across children walking buffalos in the rice fields, or women practicing embroidery outside their house. 

 Aside from the Sa Pa marketplace and the village's food resources, different goods are found at the shop located in the lower part of Hau Thao. Here is also where the school attended by the majority of the youth is based, as well as the catholic church of the town. This is frequented by some families, but the majority of the villagers are Buddhist.