Ma Ethnic People’s View of Traditional Beauty

People make jewelry and custom in order to honor their beauty. However, the concept of beauty differs from time to time and from region to region.

Long ago, in order to look more beauty, Ma ethnic people in Lam Dong province – Vietnam would “flatten their teeth and elongate their ears”; these people would flatten their teeth down to the gum line. According to their perspective, if someone did not flatten their teeth, he/she would look ugly, and would never get married. Teeth flattening proved that a person already grew up as well as he/she showed her/his courage to face with all difficulties in life.

elongated ears

elongated ears

However, it was so hard for them to flatten their teeth. Therefore, in order to encourage young people, Ma people said: “If asked to do to the farming, I will say I have no ax. If asked to ground rice, I will say I have no mortar. If asked to smile, I will say I have not flattened my teeth yet.”

Besides flattening teeth, Ma people also elongated their ears

In order to wear earrings made from ivory or bamboo, they had to elongate their earlobes. Before spreading their earlobes by spikes of lemon trees, they would make them soft by warm ginger water. The bigger their earlobes were, the more beautiful they looked. If someone elongated his/her ears until they broke into two parts, they would be awarded by a buffalo stabling event by all villagers. According to Ma concept, just intelligent people can spread their ears as wide as possible.

Ma Ethnic Groups

Ma Ethnic Groups

Traditional costumes are also an important element showing the beauty of Ma women. Previously, Ma women just wore skirts (ùi) whose main color were white or dark blue. When doing the farm work, they might wear a large canvas named “ồi”. “Ồi” was also a necessary thing for women who had babies. (They used it to carry their babies).

Since 1970s, Ma women have woven short-sleeved pullovers and skirts for daily life as well as big events of their village.

Ma people used jewelry to honor their beauty

The most interesting jewelry of Ma was bronze bracelets. Bracelets for women were different from those for men; for example, bracelets for women were usually smaller and more sophisticated than those for men, to honor the beauty of females.

Necklaces made from beads were also another favorite kind of jewelry of Ma women. They usually wore many bead necklaces, bronze necklaces and anklets in wedding parties as well as in big events of their village.

In traditional festivals, girls of Ma ethinic groups usually wear various jewelry made from beads to show their wealth and luxury. In traditional weddings of Ma people, the most important gifts are jewelries, such as bracelets, anklets ans necklaces. The groom’s family have to bring gifts to the bride’s. The kind of quantity of the gifts that the girl’s family ask for depend on the conditions and the wealth of the groom’s family. In fact, not many families can, at once, present all required gifts at their wedding; therefore, the groom’s family or the couple have to pay their “debts” after their wedding. In some cases, if the couple can not pay their debt in their whole life, their children will have to continuously pay for their parent’s debts.

Ma Women, Nowadays

Ma Women, Nowadays

In fact, jewelry plays a very important role in Ma society. Jewelty measures the wealth of a family. Although the concept of beauty of Ma has its own characteristics, it still changes as time goes by. Nowadays, young people of Ma ethnic group no longer flatten their teeth and elongate their earlobes. They just spread their earlobes big enough for small and beautiful earrings to help them look more charming. Because of bad result for health of Ma women, at present, practices such as teeth flattening and ear elongating have not appeared in life-circle rituals of Ma people. We can only realize such traces at few old people in some areas of their community.


By Ha Hanh

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