Dan Lai kids run around their forest terrain without a hat or slippers.
Some toddlers do not even have clothes on.
Older people in the tribe believe that generations of their young have managed to beat the harsh life in the thick forests and high mountains of central Vietnam thanks to an old custom.
All newborns are taken straight to a local stream for a bath, no matter if it is a cold winter’s day, as a test to see if it can endure the harsh life.
The Dan Lai are a small group of around 3,000 people living in Nghe An Province.
For hundreds of years they have maintained their customs of taking every birth seriously and not mourning the dead.
La Thi Menh, 72, told news website Dan Tri the stream bath is a challenge everyone must take.
“If the baby cannot pass the challenge, we have to live with that. Otherwise, it will grow up strong and rarely fall sick.
“But few Dan Lai kids have failed the test,” she said, smiling with pride.
She said in winter people can bring water from the stream home instead of taking the baby there.
“Whichever way it is, the first bath in life must be in cold water. Later you can use warm water.”
While they place such high expectations on newborns, the Dan Lai do not worry too much about death.
They believe that death means the end and keep funerals very simple.
Le Van Mao, a young man, told Dan Tri his group would bury a person two hours after they die, or less.
If a person dies at night, the family would wait until morning, he said.
“We used to roll the dead in a mattress, but now we put the body in a coffin and bury it in the village cemetery.”
There are no funeral rituals except for a symbolic sharing of the family’s assets, mostly pots and pans, with the dead. Men and women are treated equally.
The family symbolically shares with the dead an equal part of its assets, usually pots and pans. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre
“The sharing is basically symbolic. The family can keep the assets at home or smash them in the cemetery for the dead person, depending on their financial condition,” Mao said.
The family never visits the tomb or commemorates the death anniversary.
A village feast is held to remember all dead people during the Lunar New Year just like most others in the country do.
The way the Dan Lai prepare a baby and let go of the dead has helped them deal better with their poverty.
Stories passed down say the tribe was formed when a group of people belonging to the majority Kinh ethnic group fled into the forest to escape oppressors who demanded gold bamboo in exchange for their lives.
The name Dan Lai is said to combine “Dan”, the name of their former village Dan Nhiem, and “lai”, which means hybrid in Vietnamese, since they married various ethnic groups in the jungle.
Many Dan Lai, to this day, sit when they sleep to escape quickly from wild animals and bad humans.