The Mang don’t have a written language but ethnologists believe they are indigenous to Vietnam’s northwesternmost corner. For a long time, they lived a nomadic lifestyle – hence their nickname “The Wanderers”. They eventually settled in 1945 at the Chinese border, establishing some of the poorest villages I’ve ever come across. Traditionally, they lived near a source of water for everyday use but have since been relocated like other groups. Although this resettlement policy provided them with new housing, it also caused the loss of some of their cultural values. Today the Mang live in isolation from the rest of the world in remote mountainous areas more than one hour walking distance from the nearest river. Their stilt houses still exist but, little by little, are being replaced with concrete buildings. In addition, their traditional costumes are no longer being made.
I was able to make contact with them in July 2017. Most of the villagers had never seen a foreigner before and understandably were a bit shy at first, but they ended up being very welcoming. The woman in the portrait was almost blind but moved me with her warmth and kindness. She owned two traditional costumes composed of a vest decorated with silver coins and a thick belt wrapped around the chest. This costume is no longer worn because the new generation finds it unfashionable and too complicated to make.