The Muong are the second largest ethnic group in Vietnam after the Kinh. Regarding the historical origin, Muong cognated with Kinh. They inhabit the mountainous slopes of north central Vietnam, from the lower reaches of the Da River to the upper reaches of the Ma River, mainly in Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa. The Muong culture is related to Hoa Binh culture dating back more than 10,000 years. The Muong speak a Mon-Khmer language that is closely related to Vietnamese.
Agriculture is the foundation of the Muong economy. They have practiced farming for a long time, and wet rice is their main staple. The farmers raise wet rice on terraced land, watered by small brooks. Dry rice is also grown by using the “slash and burn” method of cultivation.
Other family income is generated through exploitation of forest products, fishing, hunting, breeding livestock, and making handicrafts. Muong handicrafts include weaving, basketry, and silk spinning. Muong women are known to be very skilled at loom weaving. Since productivity.
Muong villages generally consist of 10 to 50 households. They are usually situated on plateaus, or near water at higher altitudes (over 2,600 feet) which have abundant land for growing wet rice. Most of the Muong do not live near any major lines of communication. They live in houses that are raised about six feet off the ground on wooden stilts. They are large, rectangular dwellings divided into separate rooms by shoulder-high bamboo screens. A prominent feature in each home is the altar, which is built in honor of their ancestors. Each home has a verandah at its entrance, where a bucket of water is kept for washing their feet before entering the home. A Muong house is designed to maximize convenient use and air ventilation to counter the warm, humid mountain climate.
The Muong have an extraordinarily unified culture. One can pass through large areas of Muong territory without ever passing through the territory of another ethnic group. There is also a strong feeling of mutual aid within the Muong villages. Villagers willingly help one another in local projects, and depend on each other for mutual support and help during times of trouble.
The Muong practice their traditional ethnic religion, worshiping ancestral spirits and other supernatural deities. They are primarily animists, which means that they believe that non-living objects have spirits. They also deify local heroes who have died. However, with the introduction of modern medicine, adherence to many folk beliefs has declined.
The Muong hold many ceremonies year round such as the Going to the Fields Ceremony (“Khuong Mua”), Praying-for-Rain Ceremony (during the fourth lunar month), Washing Rice Leaves Ceremony (during the seventh and eighth lunar months), and the New Rice Ritual.
Muong marriage customs are similar to the Kinh. When a woman is giving birth to a child, her family surrounds the main ladder to the house with a bamboo fence. The child will be given a name when it is one-year-old. The Muong hold funerals with strict rules.
The literature and arts of the Muong are rich and diverse, including long poems, “mo” (ceremonial songs), folksongs, dialogue duets, proverbs, lullabies, and children’s songs. The Muong have folk songs for every event such as a house warming, duet singing in the spring, and long epics. The gong is the most popular musical instrument along with the flute, the two-string violin, the drum, and the pan-pipe.
The Muong’s costume is special. Men often wear a round-neck shirt which opens in the front and has two pockets. Their pants have large trouser legs. On special occasions, the Muong men wear a purple or yellow silk shirt inside a long, white ceremonial robe. The Muong women wear a long, black dress and a white or brown shirt with a line of buttons in the front and long sleeves. They wind a white or indigo headscarf around their head. The highlights of the Muong costume are embroidery on the dress hem and belt. It requires skill and artistic talent to design the patterns and harmonize the colors of the costume. There are 40 popular patterns such as flowers, figures, dragons, phoenixes, deer, and birds, of which the dragon is the favorite image.