The Peoples of Sapa
Before 1880, the mist-shrouded border town of Sapa was uncharted territory, within a vast and untamed wilderness in the shadow of the Himalayas. Unknown even to the lowland Vietnamese and surrounded by impenetrable mountains and thick fog, this region just south of the Chinese border was inhabited only by nomadic ethnic minorities that lacked nationality and connection to the outside world. Even when the French stumbled upon this frontier region and established its colonial outpost in the late 19th Century,the villages that surrounded it remained blanketed in mystery and insulated by formidable terrain.
Today, Vietnam is sprinting into the 21st Century, and the once sleepy Sapa Town is enjoying a tourist renaissance. But beyond the dense and bustling city centre, the communities in the surrounding mountains have continued to live unabated by the effects of modernity.
The peoples of Sapa
The Black Hmong people make up the majority of Sapa’s ethnic population, and continue to live throughout Sapa town and a handful of surrounding villages. The Black Hmong are distinguished from other communities by the deep indigo-hued clothing and colorfully embroidered sleeves, sashes, aprons, and leg wraps.
With a long history of rice cultivation, Tay People are usually found in densely populated villages near water sources at the base of mountains in and around Sapa. They are thought to be one of the first communities to enter the region and are known for their distinct belief systems revolving around ancestor worship and kitchen/house spirits.
Having only migrated to northern Vietnam from China about two centuries ago, the Giay maintain traditions influenced heavily by Chinese culture. Most Giay communities were once nomadic, but now live in small mountain communities, often alongside other ethnic groups.