The Nung have about 1 million people, ranking 7th in population among Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups. They live in all 63 provinces of Vietnam, but mainly in northern provinces of Lang Son, Cao Bang, Bac Can, Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, and Tuyen Quang. The Nung have a long history of development and many age-old, unique customs have been upheld.
The Nung have many branches such as Nung Xuong, Nung Giang, Nung An, Nung Loi, Nung Phan Sinh, and Nung Chao. They gather in a hamlet of about 30 to 70 households. In the front of the hamlet are wet rice fields and in the back are irrigation canals and orchards. The Nung live in stilt houses, earthen houses, and half stilt-half earth houses. The house is spacious and is divided into two sessions. The front session is to place the altar and for men. The back session is the kitchen and for women.
The Nung clothes are plain with the main indigo color and without embroidery. Men wear mandarin collar, button-front shirts which have 2 or 4 pockets. Women’s shirts have lop-sided buttons and are decorated with colorful pieces.
Growing wet rice is their main source of living. Women go to the forests to pick wild vegetables and mushroom for daily meals. Nguyen Van The is a guide at the Vietnam National Village for Ethnic Culture and Tourism: “The Nung are good at reclaiming land to make terraced fields besides paddy fields on the plain. They grow maize, cassava, fruit trees, and cash crops such as anise, cinnamon, and cardamom trees. They have experience in husbandry and have raised high-economic values varieties such as Muong Khuong pigs and Cao Bang horses.”
The Nung make handicraft products, mainly for their daily use. Women grow cotton, weave fabric, and dye indigo. Men can forge and cast farm tools, make wood products and tiles.
They celebrate many festivals in a year. The most famous ones are the Long Tong or Going to the field festival in the first month of the year and the Thanh Minh or Preparing the tombs festival on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month. Nong Van Doan is a Nung man in Lang Son: “In spring we celebrate the Thanh Minh festival. Our legend says the Nung ancestors migrated from China to Vietnam. On the Thanh Minh festival all Nung people have to return to their origin to burn incense on their ancestors’ tombs.”
The Nung have a rich folk culture of songs and music. Their markets sell various kinds of products. But the Nung go to the market not only for trading, it’s a place for meeting friends and young people dating.