March 14, 2022
HANOI – A ‘love market’ where people get to hang out with their exes for the day is an unusual proposition, to say the least. But this is precisely what happens on the Khâu Vai festival in the northern mountain province of Hà Giang’s Mèo Vạc District.
Once a year, on the 27th day of the third lunar month, the market serves as a meeting venue for couples who were once in love but had to break up for whatever reason.
Current husbands and wives, so it is said, do not get angry or jealous because the meeting at the market is meant to be a mere fleeting moment that does not affect their daily lives or relationships.
On the day itself, ethnic women and men dress in their most beautiful traditional costumes and go to the market to meet their old flames in public.
The social customs and beliefs of the Khâu Vai Market were recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism last year.
Believed to date back more than 100 years, the market usually takes place accompanied by a festival that includes cultural activities of various ethnic minorities.
Aside from meeting former lovers, the market is also a chance for locals to gather to exchange or trade their agricultural produce and tools. Some even meet their future lovers at the event.
Tourists and photographers find it a special event for admiring the unique ethnic culture and the attractive landscape of Mèo Vạc District.
Following a two-year postponement due to the pandemic, the festival will return in late April.
The festival’s ‘Market of Love Songs’ seeks to promote tourism and the traditional cultural values of ethnic groups in the province.
The festival will officially open on the evening of April 26. Local authorities will receive a certificate recognising the social customs and beliefs of the Khâu Vai Love Market or Phong Lưu Khâu Vai Market as a national intangible cultural heritage.
“Khâu Vai Love Market is the only one of its kind in Việt Nam. Together with Đồng Văn Karst Plateau Geopark, the funky market is held to promote the tourism industry of the province and eliminate poverty,” said Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Hà Giang Province Trần Đức Quý.
The three-day event will feature a beauty pageant, an incense offering at the Ông and Bà temples, and a peace-praying ceremony.
Traditional cultural and arts of ethnic groups in Hà Giang will also be highlighted during the festival, through panpipe performances of the Mông, folk songs of the Nùng and Giáy, and folk dances of the Lô Lô and Giáy ethnics.
Festival goers can take part in tours to the buckwheat flower valley in Lũng Pù Commune and the Village for Mông Ethnic Culture and Tourism in Pả Vi Commune, or join a boat tour on Nho Quế Lake.
Legendary love story
There are several stories about the origin of the Khâu Vai Love Market, but most elderly villagers in Khâu Vai believe the market originates from a love story between a boy and a girl named Ba and Út who were from the Nùng and Giáy ethnic groups.
They loved each other passionately but were forbidden to marry as they were not from the same ethnic group, had different customs and the boy was considered too poor.
To hide from their families, the two lovers secretly lived in a cave on Khâu Vai Mountain, not realising they were the cause of deadly conflict between their families.
Seeing their families fighting, they were heartbroken and decided to separate to fulfil their family obligations. Before leaving, they promised to return to Khâu Vai on the 27th day of the third lunar month to sing to each other and talk about whatever had happened in their year apart.
Committing to spending only one night together, they return to their everyday lives the next day. This continued until they became old, and they even returned on the last day of their lives to embrace and go into eternity together.
Their sad love story was so moving that villagers are said to have marked the day ever since and built two separate shrines to worship them.
According to folklore researcher Nguyễn Trọng Báu, the love market was first held in 1919 to commemorate their desperate love.
“This is a romantic love story full of humanity and a meaningful tradition that needs to be preserved,” Báu told the congthuong.vn website.
“The love market is solving hidden ‘deadlocks’ for the whole community by giving an ‘emotional outlet’. Couples who could not get married have a chance to meet again, while young men and women can come here to get to know each other.”
Lò Giàng Páo from the Lô Lô ethnic group in Mèo Vạc District, former deputy director of the Institute of Ethnology, said he had been familiar with the Khâu Vai Market for many years.
“When I was eight years old, my father often took me to the market because he was a Mèo Vạc police officer who kept security for the market when it opened,” Páo said.
Khâu Vai Market is not only for one ethnic group, but it is a place for the cultural exchange of many groups in Mèo Vạc and the neighbouring districts.
“People coming to the market will find no distinction between rich and poor, no gap between high or low ranks in society and no difference of age. Everyone can come, with happiness or being somewhat regretful when remembering their love of the past.” Páo said.
Hà Giang first supported Mèo Vạc District and Khâu Vai Commune to promote the cultural activities in Khâu Vai Love Market in 1993, attracting the attention of many ethnic groups such as Mông, Dao, Tày, Nùng and Giáy from Hà Giang, Cao Bằng, Bắc Kạn, Tuyên Quang, Lào Cai and Yên Bái provinces.
The market is now organised within the framework of the annual Khâu Vai Culture and Tourism Week, which lasts for three days with various cultural activities to attract more tourists to Hà Giang.
For those that have loved and lost, Phong Lưu Khâu Vai provides a day to remember the good old days and to think about the meaning of love and sacrifice. VNS