Also called Cao
Lan, San Chi, Man Cao Lan and Hon Ban, the
San chay number more than 114,000 persons.
They mainly concentrate in Tuyen Quang, Bac
Thai and Ha Bac provinces and are found in
scattered groups in Quang Ninh, Yen Bai,
Lang Son and Vinh Phu provinces. The San
chay comprise two groups which speak
different languages. The language of the Cao
Lan is close to that of the Tay and the Nung
and that of the San Chi to the Han dialect.
The language of the San chay is classified
in the Tay - Thai Group.
Ancestral worship is
the main practice but is influenced by
Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The San chay mainly cultivate wet rice but
agriculture as a whole plays an important
role, Dozens of families form a village and
live in a close association. Formerly,
houses were almost built on stilts but now
those built level with the ground are very
popular. The house is imagined as "the
Buffalo Genie", its four pillars symbolizing
the four legs, the laths representing the
ribs and the roof understood as the
backbone. One of the two corners of the
penthouse is a bay for the altar to
ancestors, regarded as the holiest section
in each family.
Today, the attire of the San chay tends to
imitate the Kinh or Tay. On ordinary days,
women use the cord carrying the knife sheath
as a waist belt. On festive occasions, they
usually wear 2-3 silk belts of different
The San chay inhabitants belong to various
family lineages, each lineage having several
branches and peculiar habits and customs,
and worshipping a definite genie. The father
is the head of the family, The family of the
young man organizes the marriage but after
wedding, the wife lives again with her
parents and only visits her husband's family
now and then, She settles definitively at
the husband's house only after
The San chay possess many old tales,
folksongs, proverbs and sayings
Particularly, sinh ca (alternating love song
chants) is the most attractive form of
cultural activity. They also have many
dances like the drum dance, bird dance,
harpoon-fishing dance, shrimp-catching
dance, and lamp dance.
The most popular musical instruments are
castanets, small copper bells, cymbals, wind
instruments and drums.
At ceremonies and festivals, there are many
forms of entertainment such as top spinning,
con throwing and standing on the head.