Human culture

Ma ethnic group

The Ma ethnic group has nearly 33,000 people residing mainly in Lam Dong province. The Ma people have another name is Chau Ma, including local groups such as Ma Xop, Ma To, Ma Krung, and Ma Ngan. Ma language belongs to the Mon-Khmer language group.

The Ma live in bons (villages). Each bon comprises five to ten elongated houses, which are the residences of generations with the same bloodline. The chief of a bon is called the quang bon.

The Ma people work in upland fields to grow rice and other crops such as corn, gourds, squash, tobacco, cotton, etc. The production tools are rudimentary, with knives, pickaxes, and sticks to poke holes. In the Dong Nai river basin (Cat Tien district), people work in wet fields by driving a whole herd of buffalo into the field so that the buffalo can trample the soil until the mud is aerated and then sow seed.  The Ma people raise buffaloes and cows freely in the forest in herds, only when they need to get meat or trample the fields to catch them.

Ma women are famous for their traditional craft of weaving with delicate patterns of flowers, birds, and animals with many colors. Ironsmithing is famous in many villages. They refine their own ore to get iron to forge production tools and weapons. In the Dong Nai riverside, the Ma build dugout canoes to travel, transport, and fish on the river.

Traditional costumes: Ma women wear wrap skirts, too long, and men wear loincloths. In the season of farming, many people are naked, and they wear a shawl outside in the cold season. They have the custom of “scratching teeth, stretching ears”, and wearing many jewelry rings. The groom’s family takes the initiative in the marriage, but after the wedding, the groom has to stay at his wife’s house until he has paid for enough gifts for the bride’s family to take his wife back to his house.

The Ma people believe that there are many gods: Yang (heaven) is the supreme god, in addition, there are river gods, mountain gods, fire gods, etc. As well as other ethnic groups in the Mon-Khmer language group, the Ma people often organize the buffalo stabbing festival on the occasion of the traditional New Year (about 1 month after the Lunar New Year and the buffalo stabbing festival lasts up to 1-2 months).

Ma folklore treasure includes many unique stories and legends. The traditional musical instruments have a set of gongs, drums, khene, horns, etc.

Stieng ethnic group

The Xtieng ethnic group has more than 67,000 people. The majority of the Xtieng people live in Binh Phuoc province, some in Dong Nai and Tay Ninh. Two local groups of Xtieng can be distinguished: Bu Dek and Bu Lo. The Bu Dek group lives in the lower area and knows how to farm in water and use buffaloes and cows to toil and moil for a long time. The Bu Lo group lives higher on the mountain and deeper in the forest, thus, they only work on terraced fields. They living close to the Mnong and the Ma people. The Xtieng ethnic group is also known as the Xa Dieng. The Xtieng language belongs to the Mon-Khmer language group.

Nowadays, the Xtieng people in many places have settled down, private homes are becoming more common. In higher elevations, the Xtieng live in houses built directly on the ground, covered with roofs that almost touch the floor. In lower elevations, the Xtieng live in magnificent stilt houses. The Dieu family name is common throughout the Xtieng region. Xtieng village has a tradition of self-governance, headed by an old man knowledgeable in customs, of great prestige, resourcefulness, and often the rich man of the village. Wealth is calculated by assets such as buffalo, cow, gong, jar, jewelry rings, etc.

Usually boys between the ages of 19 and 20, girls between the ages of 15 and 17 will start looking for a mate. After the wedding ceremony, the bride returns to her husband’s house or the groom returns to his wife’s house.

Normally, men wore loin cloths, with no shirt; women wore shirts with wrapped skirts. In winter, people wear cloth to prevent the cold. The Xtieng people wear long hair in a bun at the nape of their neck, pierced earlobes to wear wooden or ivory earrings, and tattoo with simple patterns. All men, women, old and young love to wear all kinds of rings. Young children wear rattles on both ankles.

The Xtieng people believe in the mystical power of thunder, lightning, heaven, earth, moon, and sun. The divine nature and authority of the god are defined by the white sacrifice: white chicken, white pig, and white buffalo. People calculate their age according to the farming season.

The Xtieng people love music, the most commonly seen instrument is the gong. The gong is not played outside the house, except on the buffalo stabbing festival. Gongs are used in festivals, both in expressing feelings and in reconciliation between families. At the end of the dry season, people often play kite flying.

Cat Tien Holy Land



Cat Tien archaeological site: The archaeological site was discovered by chance in 1985. This is a large relic complex built mainly of bricks and stone and extends over 10 km along the left bank of Dong Nai river, distributed mainly in Quang Ngai commune and Dong Nai town, Cat Tien district, Lam Dong province. According to scientists, this may be a holy place with unearthed relics showing the architectural components of Hindu temples such as temples, tomb towers, etc. and metal artifacts of gold and copper with intricate carvings of the male gods, goddesses, gods Silva, cows, elephants, etc., k’lon boxes to store the cremated bones and ashes of the Brahmins. Ceramic and stone artifacts, especially Linga – Yoni statues, are delicately carved.

One of them, there is a set of statues confirmed to be the largest in Southeast Asia.

Ta Lai Prison

Ta Lai Prison was built by the French colonialists in September 1939 to imprison communists and patriots during the revolution. Some of our revolutionaries were imprisoned here such as comrade Duong Quang Dong - former member of the Cochinchina Party Committee, the first to join the Red Union founded by comrade Ton Duc Thang, and also was one of the first Communist Party members. Some elderly revolutionary comrades such as historian Tran Van Giau, comrade To Ky and many others.

According to the memoirs of comrade Duong Quang Dong: after the failure of the Cochinchina uprising in 1940, the French colonialists killed tens of thousands of people, cadres and party members of the Cochinchina Party Committee. We discussed if the opportunity came, who would stand up to save the country and save the people in the long run. In this situation, we decided to break out of prison and organized for three comrades to come out first as comrades Minh Theo, Duong Khuy and Ut Khuyen. After that, we decided to let eight more comrades escape and go straight to Saigon: Tran Van Giau, To Ky, Chau Van Giac, Nguyen Cong Trung, Nguyen Van Duc, Truong Van Nham, Tran Van Kiet and me. We didn't know how to go to the forest, so we got lost and had to starve for more than ten days. In such circumstances, we were provided with food by ethnic minorities living in the area (Chau Ma, Stieng and Chau Ro ethnic groups) and guided us to Highway 20 to Go to Saigon. That night, we gave three comrades a ride back to Saigon and set a date to pick up the remaining comrades.

Returning to Saigon, the next morning two of our comrades were arrested, the French colonialists killed one comrade and exiled one comrade to Con Dao. But on time, there was still a car to pick us up, comrade Duc and I returned to Saigon, we chose May 1, 1941 to establish the Cochinchina facility restoration committee, and agreed to appoint me as its head. I assigned comrade Nham to hang a hammer and sickle flag on Mac Ma Hong Street (nowaday Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street). The raising of the hammer and sickle red flag right in Saigon made a big impact. Soon after, our Party grassroots organizations in Saigon, Gia Dinh, Cho Lon, Bien Hoa, Thu Dau Mot, and Tan An were restored, respectively. At this time, the French colonialists tried to terrorize and hunt for Communist comrades. In early 1942, Comrade Nham was arrested in Can Giuoc, and Comrade Duc was arrested in Cho Lon. In such a difficult situation, I thought I would be arrested sooner or later, because the eight death sentences of eight prisoners who had escaped from Ta Lai prison were hung everywhere by the French colonialists. Personally, I had to disguise myself as a driver and go around the streets of Saigon every day to coordinate with my comrades in activities. By 1943, twenty-one provinces of Cochinchina were able to organize Provincial Party Committees. From the 13th to the 15th of October 1943, we had a meeting to establish the provisional party committee consisting of 11 comrades. Since then, the revolutionary forces of South Vietnam have matured and contributed to the victory in the August 1945 general uprising and the great victory in the spring of 1975.

Today, Ta Lai prison only has traces that are being erased over time. The People's Committee of Dong Nai Province built the memorial stele of Ta Lai prison in order to educate the young generation about the tradition of revolutionary struggle and the noble sacrifices of our army and people in the cause of national liberation.

Cat Tien National Park

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