Sa Pa ‘love market’ set to rekindle pursuit of the heart

By Ngan Duong, An Vu    November 27, 2020 | 02:51 am PT
Sa Pa ‘love market’ set to rekindle pursuit of the heart
Playing the Khen panpipe and dancing is a custom of the H'mong people. Photo by To Ba Hieu.
The ethnic H’mong romance exchange will be revived in mountainous town Sa Pa, starting this weekend.

The event, expected to attract hundreds of local artists and craftspeople, will take place from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on November 28 and December 5 at No. 2 Fansipan Street of the resort town in northern Vietnam's Lao Cai Province.

It is aimed at presenting and promoting indigenous cultural values, as well as helping young local generations and tourists learn about the town’s traditional "love market."

Locals from across the town are expected to bring baskets of corn and rice as well as dogs and chicken to the fair.

Young men and women will dress in colorful and vivid traditional clothing for the event, exchanging messages of love and endearment via dances, panpipe playing, songs, and traditional games.

The culturally distinctive H’mong’s "hai pu" (bride dragging) custom, similar to a man proposing to a woman, will also feature at the event.

Specifically, young couples usually take their time getting to know each other. When both partners feel ready for love, they would set a date when the young woman is to be dragged to the man’s house. The young man can choose any location he wishes to drag his future bride, assisted by friends or brothers. When the time comes, he takes her hand and tells her he wants to drag her home.

The chosen woman, though having previously promised herself to him, offers up resistance. The man and his friends then carry her off "by force", though without inflicting harm.

At his house, the woman remains in a separate room, guarded by one of the man’s cousins who tries to persuade her to get married. After three days, if she says "yes", the family of the man would deliver some wine to the woman’s house to seal the union.

If, however, the woman says "no", she will return home safely.

Traditionally, the man later delivers an amount of money to her home as a fine payment, along with some food shared with her parents. They then share a glass of wine, symbolizing their future alliance.

Visitors at the event can indulge in round sticky rice cakes, local donuts, seven-color sticky rice, and thang co, which is traditionally made from the meat and offal of horses or buffaloes.

Ha Van Thang, head of Lao Cai Province’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Department, said Sa Pa is expected to welcome 1.2 million domestic and foreign visitors this year, a big decline against the 3.5 million last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sa Pa is a top travel destination in Vietnam with major attractions like the Mount Fansipan, nicknamed "roof of Indochina", terraced rice fields, Muong Hoa Valley, and a Gothic stone church at its center.

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