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Dzao Tiên - North Vietnam.

1-The traditional outfit

For Dzao Tiên women, the weaving of fine embroidery in relief is a traditional art, handed down as a heritage. A true generational heritage, the brocatelle contributes to the cultural identity of the Dzao Tiên ethnic group.

On a daily basis, the traditional outfit of the Dzao Tiên woman consists of: a white scarf 3m long, embroidered with essentially geometric patterns, a blouse, a long skirt, with a black and indigo base, more or less braided and embroidered, with a 2m long belt and white leggings, the famous necklace on which are fixed 7 or 9 sapèques (1), an ancient Chinese and Indochinese currency, in use until the beginning of the 20th century.

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The ceremonial dress does not seem to have additional clothing attributes. It is above all more colorful, the embroidery and braid are more numerous and more sophisticated.
The scarf adopts a black and indigo base for the occasion, adorned with red fringes, sometimes with beads and small sewn silver pieces. The blouse, the long skirt, are always basic black and indigo, the closures and the sleeves are decorated with silver ornaments, the jewels are more numerous, sumptuous and ostentatious.

As with many ethnicities, colors, patterns, and symbols may vary depending on the tribe, clan, village, or social status of the owner. They illustrate differences, both signs of recognition and marks of distinction. True signs of ethnic identity.

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It is customary for a young Dzao Tiên wife who is beginning her married life to wear the clothes made the year before the wedding and the precious silver jewels of her dowry.

2-The lacquering of the teeth .

Lacquering teeth is an ancestral tradition. This custom common to both sexes, but more practiced among women, was used in many Asian countries (China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines...).

The technique of tooth lacquering was subject to codification. The methods, colors (2) and products used were specific to each people.
Several reasons are put forward to explain the practice of lacquering teeth, according to popular belief, a hygienic and prophylactic function against halitosis, cavities and oral diseases, a protective function against the corrosive action of betel and an aesthetic criterion. traditional (3) or a social function (4).


In Vietnam, as in the other countries of the former French colonial Empire, the lacquering of teeth, mainly practiced in the mountain ethnic groups of the center and north, gradually declined from colonization, to die out in the 1950s. Nowadays we can still observe tooth blackening in people of the third generation.

Bruno GOHIN  

1- In the Chinese tradition the Sapèques are the symbol of prosperity par excellence. In ancient times, the sapec was worn as a protective amulet, believed to protect its wearer from disease or negative spirits.

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2- The teeth were most often blackened (for example among the Moïs and Annamites of Annam (present-day Vietnam)) but we also found red colorations (among the Muongs and Thais of Upper Tonkin, among the inhabitants of Upper Laos) or in yellow (among Tho, Mans, Lolos du Haut Tonkin) (D'ENJOY 1898, ROUX 1905, CORBIERE 2003, LASSERE 201).

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3- This symbolism is illustrated in ancient poetry where the lacquering of teeth is considered an essential beauty trait in Vietnamese women:

M t th ươ ng tóc b ỏ đ uôi gà, Hai th ươ ng ă n nói m n mà có duyên, a th ươ ng má lúm đồ ng ti n, Bốn thương r ă ng láng h t huy n kem thua.
"The first grace is the high and tied hair, The second, the charming and warm words, The third, the slightly hollow cheeks, The fourth grace, the black teeth and very shining like jet ...."

And the poet Hoàng C m wrote: Nh ng cô hàng xén r ă ng đ en cười như mùa thu tỏa nắng.
“The young black-toothed merchants have a smile as bright as a sunny autumn. "

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4- In certain ethnic groups, lacquering the teeth of young girls was practiced as soon as the first menstruation appeared. If it is not strictly speaking a rite of passage. In this context, it had a social dimension, marking puberty and access to adult status. It therefore signified a change of ground state, namely the passage from a relatively undifferentiated sexual state to a socially determined sexual role.

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