Pa Then people

Pà Thẻn

Girls in national costumes
Total population
( Vietnam 6,811 (2009)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Vietnam : Hà Giang, Tuyên Quang
Vietnamese, Pa-Hng
Traditional religion, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism

The Pa Then (or Pá Hưng; Vietnamese: người Pà Thẻn) are an ethnic group of Vietnam. Most Pa Then live in Hà Giang and Tuyên Quang provinces, located in Vietnam's Northeast region. The Pa-Hng language belongs to the Hmong–Mien language family.

In 1999, the Pa Then numbered approximately 5,500 people.


Before 1970, the Pa Then practiced slash-and-burn (swidden) cultivation (Vu 2013:70-71). The Pa Then began to switch to wet-rice cultivation starting in 1970, and from 1993 onwards, most Pa Then had given up slash-and-burn cultivation. Currently the Pa Then grow various kinds of rice, including large-grained glutinous rice, long-grained glutinous rice, red glutinous rice, and non-glutinous rice varieties.

Traditionally, the Pa Then grew rice, maize, cassava, sesame, cassava, taro, lettuce, calabash, luffa, colocynth, sweet gourd, beans, and Chinese peas as food crops. The Pa Then also planted various spices such as basil, shallot, spring onion, garlic, ginger, crocus, red pepper, lesser galangal, citronella, eryngium, perilla, and marjoram. Sugarcane was also planted as well as fruit trees such as tangerine, guava, banana, grapefruit, lychee, longan, jackfruit, orange, and papaya.

In traditional Pa-Then slash-and-burn cultivation, crops that are to be harvested earlier are planted on the outside of the field, while later crops are planted in the middle. Seeds are sowed in the 2nd lunar month, and harvests take place in the 7th lunar month or the late 10th lunar month. When rice ripens, pincers are used to cut each ear of rice.

The Pa Then raise various animals such as water buffaloes, pigs, cattle, chickens, ducks, goats, and dogs (Vu 2013:86).



The Pa Then believe that the universe was created by the god Quơ Vo and the goddess Me Quơ O (Vu 2013:122-127). Pa Then cosmology divides the universe into four parts.

  1. The sky, where the sun, moon, stars, ancestors, God of Thunder, God of Lightning, Great Buddha, and others gods and spirits reside. The sky is ruled by the god Quơ Vo.
  2. The earth, where human beings, plants, animals, ancestors, and various ghosts and spirits (soil, forest, stone, plants, etc.) reside. The earth is ruled by the goddess Me Quơ O.
  3. The water, where there are various naiads, dragons, and gods of rivers and springs. The water is ruled by the goddess Me Quơ O.
  4. The underworld, where Me Quơ Lê and various spirits live. The underworld is ruled by the devil goddess Me Quơ Lê.

Benevolent spirits include the ancestral ghosts, the Stove god, the Room god, the Door god, the Soil god, Quơ Vo, and Me Quơ O. However, these spirits can also cause disease and crop failures when upset. Malevolent spirits include ghosts of people who die sudden deaths, the Forest spirit, the Cliff spirit, and plant spirits.

Each god is worshiped using different rituals (Vu 2013:122-127).

Ancestral worship

Most Pa Then families have two altars dedicated to ancestral worship, namely a primary altar and a minor (subordinate) altar. Ancestral worship is carried out on the following occasions (Vu 2013:122-127).

Fire Dancing Festival

The Pa Then for celebrate the Fire Dancing (or Fire Jumping) Festival from the late 10th lunar month to the mid-1st lunar month (Vu 2013:130-131). A priest (sorcerer) plays the Tầy nhậy, a wooden plank about 30 cm wide and 1 meter long that is played using a small bamboo stick and balanced by an iron ring (Vu 2013:169). Five to seven dancers usually participate. The priest calls out the following gods to induce the dancers into trances.


  1. "The 2009 Vietnam Population and Housing Census: Completed Results". General Statistics Office of Vietnam: Central Population and Housing Census Steering Committee. June 2010. p. 135. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
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