Football in the mountains

13/08/2019 14:50

The women’s football league of the San Chi ethnic community celebrates sports and culture.

Binh Lieu the northernmost district of Quang Ninh Province, borders China’s Guangxi Province and is known for its cool climate and stunning mountainous landscape.  

Recently, an incredible new sight has been emerged to the area: women and girls from the San Chi ethnic group playing organized football (soccer) matches. And unlike typical leagues, the players are outfitted in their own traditional clothing for the games, wearing blue blouses, black skirts and turbans.

The San Chi people of Huc Dong commune possess their own distinguished and preserved culture such as call-and-response Soong Co singing, held annually on March 16 of the Lunar calendar, and folk games such as pushing sticks and spinning tops, which attract numerous visitors.

On one late spring day, I arrived in Huc Dong and by chance had an opportunity to watch a football match organized by the commune. At the peak of a flat-topped mountain, the Huc Dong team was competing against Dai Duc team of the same district. All the players are from San Chi ethnic group so both teams wore blue blouses and black below-the-knee skirts. Without any numbers on their backs, teams were identified by the color shade of the blouses, with girls of the Huc Dong team wearing light blue and their opponents having a bit darker color.

The match was joyful but fiercely contested and in the end, Huc Dong claimed victory over Dai Duc team with a final score of 4-1.

The women’s football movement was sparked in 2016, when the villages organized a football event in early spring. From 2018 onward, the women’s football tournament of Huc Dong commune has been officially held. In 2019, apart from organizing matches between women of Huc Dong, the commune has added one open tournament and invited neighboring localities, such as Dai Duc, to participate.   

Doan Xuan Trang, Secretary of Huc Dong Commune Committee told me that the rules call for players to wear the traditional costumes representing their ethnic groups. Six of the teams competing in the women’s football tournament of Huc Dong commune are from the San Chi ethnic group, which means they all wore blue blouses and black skirts, while teams coming from other groups should wear their own conventional outfits.

“That’s how we maintain our cultural identities and gain support from others,” Mr. Trang said.

There are a total of around 200,000 San Chi people (also called San Chay, Cao Lan and Hon Ban) living in various northern mountainous and midland provinces. Their costumes vary depending on each residential area. In Binh Lieu, San Chi women wear blue blouses, black skirts, and turbans. From kindergarten on, school girls to senior citizens, all frequently put on blue and black costumes in their daily activities, except for when the temperarture drops and additional warm clothes are needed.

There are no tailor shops in Huc Dong and most San Chi women make clothes for themselves and for their children. Teachers may also sew clothes for female students. And San Chi women are dressed in their most beautiful outfits when they are laid to rest to reunite with the ancestors.

The buttons of the blouses are braided and discreetly placed near the side, while the black skirt is frilled and its waistband is made from floral cloth with drawstring attached. “A blue turban with a pink wool strip attached should be worn along with the blue and black kit, symbolizing the fullness of heaven and earth and the morality and virtue of San Chi women,” said Mr. Trang.

Luu Quang Pho

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