The Va ethnic minority
The Va ethnic minority

    Most of the 352,000 Vas lives in Ximeng, Cangyuan, Menglian, Gengma, Lancang, Shuangjiang, Zhenkang and Yongde counties in southwestern Yunnan Province, with a scattering found scatting in Xishuangbanna and  Dehong Prefectures. Ximeng and Cangyuan counties are the main places where the Va people live in compact communities. Traditionally the area where the Va people live was called the Ava hilly region.  

    With a subtropical climate, the fertile Ava region has plentiful rainfall and only 40 frost-free days a year. It is suitable for the growth of dry rice, paddy, maize, millet, buckwheat, potatoes, cotton, hemp, tobacco and sugarcane, as well as such subtropical fruits as bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papayas and oranges.

    The Va language belongs to the Austroasiatic family. Before 1949, except for some parts of the area where an alphabetic script was used, the Va people had no written language, and they kept records and accounting or passed messages with material objects or by engraving bamboo strips. Each strip ranged from half an inch to an inch in width. Objects used implied specific meaning or feelings. For instance, sugarcane, banana or salt meant friendship, hot pepper anger, feather urgency, and gunpowder and bullets the intention of clan warfare. An alphabetic script was created for the Va people in 1957.

Customs and Habits

    Family property generally was inherited by the youngest son, while daughters were denied the right to inherit. 

    Men and women had sex freedom before marriage. Small groups of young men and women met and sang love songs. After giving their chosen partners betal nuts or tobacco leaves as a token of love, they could go to sleep together. Such freedom ended upon marriage.

    Most of the Va villages were built on hilltops or slopes. When a family built a new house, others came to help and presented timber and straw as gifts. Generally the house was completed in one day by collective effort. The "big house" of a big chieftain or a rich person was marked by a special woodcut on top. The walls were decorated with many cattle skulls still carrying horns. The other sections were the same as commoners' houses, built on stilts, and the space below was used for breeding domestic livestock. Before iron cauldrons were introduced into the area, the Vas used big bamboo tubes to cook rice, and the cooked rice was divided into equal shares by the hostess at the meal. They loved to chew betel nuts and drink liquor.

    The Va people dress differently according to different areas. Men's garments consist of a collarless jacket and very wide trousers. Their turbans are usually black or red and their ears are pierced, through which red and black tassels are threaded. Young men like decorating their shins with circular ornaments woven with bamboo strips or rattan. A Va woman wears a black short dress and a straight long skirt with folds. She has a silver (or rattan) hoop round her head and silver necklets and chains of colored beads round her neck. Round her hips are many circular hoops of rattan. Va women are fond of bracelets round their wrists and earrings.