Profile Source: Copyright © Operation China, Paul Hattaway
In Vietnam, the 38,000 Giay are given official status by the government. In China, the Giay have been combined with many other related groups to make up the huge Zhuang nationality. The Giay, however, speak their own language and possess a distinct historical identity. The Giay are also often referred to as the Nhang, which is a name given to them by the Vietnamese.
According to one linguist, the Giay language is the same as Bouyei in China. The Giay in China use a different script from their counterparts in Vietnam.
The Giay who now live in Vietnam migrated there from China approximately 200 years ago, "perhaps during the Black and Yellow Flag Wars."
The traditional dress worn by Giay women included a knee-length skirt, but now the women have begun wearing normal Han Chinese clothing. Giay families are dominated by the males. Wives must obey their husbands, unmarried women must obey their fathers, and widows must obey their sons. Giay women prefer to give birth in a squatting position, in a room where an altar has been erected to ensure that the spirits oversee a favorable birth. The placenta is later buried beneath the woman's bed. When the baby is a month old the parents call for a ceremony to inform the ancestors of the birth and to name the baby. The Giay consult horoscopes to determine the fate of the child.
The Giay practice ancestor worship. Many are also animists, while some of the current generation of youth are nonreligious, having received an atheistic education under the Communist system. Each Giay village has a "forbidden forest" called a doong xia where the biggest tree is considered sacred. Twice a year, worship of the spirit of the village is celebrated at the foot of the tree. Whenever these rituals take place, outsiders and visitors are strictly forbidden to enter the village. Bamboo is cut down and placed at the entrance of the village to bar access to all strangers. Parts of sacrificed animals are then hung from the tree; ears of pigs or buffaloes, chickens' feet, and tufts of animal hair are commonly used.
Few Giay have heard that Jesus Christ died for them. They are trapped in superstition and a fear of evil spirits. There are no strong Christian communities near the Giay. The southern tip of China and northern Vietnam are two large unreached regions. A small number of Catholics do live among the Giay in China, and a few believers can be found among the Giay in Vietnam. They are one of a relatively small number of groups in China which possesses its own orthography.