The Dao Khau live mainly in the Sin Ho district of Lai Chau province. Like other ethnic minority groups in Sin Ho, the Dao Khau consider the wood stove an important symbol of their lives. Despite many changes in their cooking habits, the Dao Khau have maintained the cultural traditions associated with their wood stoves.
The Dao Khau build their houses in three sections with three stoves. The three stoves are placed in accordance with certain rules and taboos. The biggest stove, made of clay is placed on the left in the main room. It is used to cook mash for pigs, make wine, bake cakes, and heat water for bathing. Another smaller clay stove is place behind the big stove to cook daily meals. A third wood stove, more like a fireplace, is used to boil drinking water and warm the house. The second stove is the most sacred and is called the Kitchen God. People are not allowed to climb on the stove or have a quarrel next to it. Tan Coai Loang in Hoang Ho hamlet, Phang Xo Lin commune, told us: “The Kitchen God lives in this stove. We have to keep it clean. We don’t dry baby diapers on it and women are not allowed to sit directly in front of the fire-door. Elder people have to teach their children the rules so they will understand their group’s tradition.”
|The first stove in the Dao Khau house|
The second sacred stove
The Dao Khau must choose the right day to build their second stove to avoid disturbing the house genies. The 9th, 19th, and 29th day of a lunar month or between the 12th month and the second month of the following year are good times to refurbish or make a new stove. The Dao Khau think the Kitchen God returns to heaven on these days. To build a stove, they use 4 wood panels 1 meter long and 60 cm wide to make the frame. The stove has two holes for two pots. A stove can be used for up to 20 years. Cheo Nai Menh of Ta Phin hamlet said: “We choose a good day to make a stove. We use a fine yellow clay without stones because when we fire it, stones can break. We have to be careful so the stove will be durable and efficient and the Kitchen God will bless our family with good health and prosperity.”
The Dao Khau hold all important family activities around the second stove. During the new year festival, the stove is always burning because the Dao Khau think fire and hot charcoals are their ancestors’ eyes looking after their children. Tan Kim Phu is a Dao culture researcher: “Only the Dao Khao in Sin Ho make this type of stove, convenient for daily cooking and of important spiritual value. Nowadays, some families have a gas and electric cookers but the traditional stoves are still used.”
The stove embodies the cultural and historical values of the Dao people, who gather in the kitchen for important events and share with each other the epics, legends, and songs of their group.