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Ma Le commune in Ha Giang province is inhabited by a colourful community of Giay ethnic people, who cling to traditional ways and shun modern medicine.

Driving through a rocky plateau amongst the mountains of Ha Giang province, I find the small village I have been looking for -- Ma Le commune of Dong Van District, home to a small population belonging to the Giay hill tribe.

When I arrive the regular weekend market is underway. The sky is clear and blue and the sun is shining brightly. I can hear the melodious sound of dan moi (bamboo harp) in the air. Groups of Mong, Lo Lo and Pu Peo ethnic people walk towards the fair armed with bundles of vegetables and chili, chickens, ducks, black pigs and alcohol. For communities living all around Lung Cu mountain going to Ma Le market on the weekend is a routine, trip rain or shine.
Near the market a striking group of Giay girls emerge wearing sapphire-blue costumes as if showcasing the local fashion. The market in Ma Le is boisterous and crowded, but I’m not in the mountain area to shop. Instead, I slip way from the throng of people, following the sapphire blue blouses towards their village.

Located near Lung Cu mountain peak, Ma Le village is home to only 20 households. The Giay people often live close to other hill tribes and have friendly ties with Mong, Lo Lo Chai and Pu Peo villages while still retaining their own unique characteristics and culture.



The villagers cultivate rice in submerged terraced fields and grow corn on the rocky fields. Buffaloes and horses are kept for agriculture and transport, while pigs and poultry are kept for meat and sacrificial purposes.

As I wander around the village I find a local clinic, a flat roofed house with five clean beds and no patients. The villagers don’t come to the clinic when they’re sick. Instead, I’m told they go to the local healer, Lo Dinh Thieu. When I arrive at his house, there are six people waiting for him to feel their pulse and prescribe herbal medicines.



The Giay people still use herbal medicines and remedies bequeathed by their ancestors. Thieu possesses hundreds of remedies, which have been handed down orally – there are no written records. Whenever he needs more medicine, he disappears into the forest to collect some. There are some seemingly backward rules in the village, for example, Giay women cannot call a doctor or go to a clinic or hospital when giving birth.

Source: VOV


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