THE COTU MINORITY
Daily village life in Bho Hoong revolves around traditions and practices that have more or less remained unchanged since the Co Tu began interacting with modern society. The Co Tu people in general have retained more of their original culture than most other ethnic minority groups in Vietnam.
The Co Tu are renowned in Vietnam for their ancient affinity with their forests, their ancestral divinities, their agricultural practices and their stubbornness in converting to modern life.
Farmers still hold true to the subsistence agricultural practices of rice and vegetable cultivation and animal husbandry. The techniques employed are well suited to the surrounding environment and have served them well for centuries. All villagers are in some way involved in raising food irrespective of their main profession. Whatever small excess food they produce is bartered or sold at local markets to help supplement their meager income.
Foresters still selectively log the surrounding jungle for the most prized timbers. Weavers still construct buildings and fabrics using methods of old. Village elders guide and instruct all in the proper respect due to the forest, water and sky gods. Their nightly dance and gong performance in front of the central Goul house isn’t just for tourists but is an integral part of celebrating their culture and appeasing the spirits that demand regular tribute.
Bho Hoong Bungalows offers a window on this traditional ethnic minority village life in a way that no other experience in Vietnam can.
Co Tu People & History
The history of the Co Tu people remains much shrouded in mystery. Until now, there has been little research on the origins of the Co Tu people. The Cotu themselves believe that their ancestors settled in the west of Quang Binh, and Quang Tri provinces. When they found cultivated land, they moved to the south.
The Co Tu inhabit the mountainous regions of Central Vietnam West of Quang Nam and Da Nang right up to and over the Lao border. They are now counted amongst the smallest of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups with a total population of just 60,000 people. They live in small villages comprising of mostly wood and rattan huts with a central common, Goul and Moong houses and practice subsistence agriculture and hunting methods.
Beliefs And Ceremonies
Co Tu people follow an ancient patriarchal pattern with the men being responsible for the household, making the decisions and holding political power while the women are responsible for looking after the family and agricultural work. The Co Tu believe that souls wander the earth around them and since women are believed to be weaker, it is thought that these floating souls can permeate and talk to the women, granting them special spiritual powers. Their religion and culture is unique amongst traditional beliefs in Vietnam.
Hunting is central to Co Tu culture and the chief spirit the Co Tu worship is Comor Bar. She is the spirit of the forests and the guardian of birds, bees, fish and animals. Before a hunt commences a fortune telling ceremony is performed by villagers to determine the likelihood of success. A select portion of every successful hunt is set aside to appease this fickle spirit and to help ensure future hunting success. The spirits of the slain animals are said to take up residence in the skull hanging inside the Goul, reporting back to Comor Bar any transgressions to villagers make and thus endangering future hunts. All ceremonies and practices within the Goul pay respect to the inhabitants behind these unblinking eyes.
Every house has a special alter dedicated to Comor Bar upon which they place horns and heads of hunted animals. A yearly celebration in honour of Comor Bar is held in the late summer and is marked by the slaughtering of a sacrificial animal. During such festivals, and at other celebrations throughout the year, the Co Tu perform their traditional dances. These dances are usually performed simultaneously around a central bonfire under the light of the stars and together they merge into a ceremony that traces its history back thousands of years.
Dress & Traditional Handicrafts
Brocade weaving has always been an essential part of the self-sufficient life of the Co Tu ethnic people. Co Tu women take charge of weaving, making attractive yet sturdy clothes and other items to use in the kitchen, decorations or for spiritual purpose for their family or as gifts to share.
The traditional dress of the Co Tu people is simple, practical and colorful. The men wear loincloths and leave their upper bodies bare except during ceremonies when they drape a longer body cloth in a cross across their chest. The women wear long skirts and short-sleeved tops. Both men and women’s outfits are made from black fabric with bands of embroidery predominately in red, white and orange.
Co Tu weavers harmoniously manoeuvre a wood and bamboo device with their body movements. Seated with her back holding the end of vertical yarns, the artisan pushes the other end of the yarns with her legs, changing tension to allow horizontal yarns to criss-cross the other, whilst simultaneously adding decorative beads. The Co Tu are the last tribe in Southeast Asia who continue to embroider their beads by hand, having yet to accept the use of glue for this process.
Rattan weaving is on the main traditional handicrafts of the Co Tu people. For generations, after each planting had been completed, Co Tu men walk deep into the forest to gather rattan material. Once extracted, rattan canes are taken home, split into strips, sun-dried, and stored above the wood-fired stove to help preserve them. The men gather in the Guol, their stilted village common house and ply their craft, this also gives the men a avenue to discuss village politics and share no small amount of gossip. The dried strips are turned into useful woven household products such as mats, the iconic Co Tu backpack and other decorative items.