Viet Nam

loud and proud

Klum Kuh from Buôn Ma Thuột,

It’s in the Viếtnamese interior, in the highlands, where Viết Nam’s ethnic groups co-exist with the majority Kinh. There are said to be 54 ethnic groups. Whereas in some countries, ethnic tribes are just hanging on against the damaging effects of assimilation and creeping modernity, here they are loud and proud.

Here in central Viết Nam, in and around the township of Buôn Ma Thuột, the Ede are a matriarchal society, one of few such societies in the world. We are staying in a purpose-built resort, AkoEa, which showcases and celebrates the society.

a culture worthy of pride

AkoEa is a cultural experience doubling as a bulwark against modern intrusion. Yes, the music is amplified and the drums are electronic, but almost everything else is natural and low-impact. The accommodation is all-timber, the clothing is all hand-made, the food is plastic-free, and the lotus lagoon is full of koi.

The wearing of traditional costumes, the language, the cuisine, along with all other hallmarks of the culture, are not dragged out coyly just for annual occasions. Rather, they are worn proudly as artifices of a culture worthy of pride, and practised proudly as a quotidian experience. This is not a quaint vestige of a disappearing society, one which the world would not lament in its passing.

The resort is ‘owned’ by one of the matriarchs. She is a benevolent elder the young women all perceive “as a mother”. Ownership here is built more on management aims rather than proprietorial equity and the surpluses are common property. Family names follow the female lineage and the big decisions are in the hands of women. The men don’t seem to be feeling any emasculation or irrelevance. In fact, the question was greeted with puzzlement.

no cultural cringe

These are by no means a backward people clinging onto a bygone existence. They are not losing the inexorable battle against modernity and progress. They are indubitably not a broken people donning quaint cultural artifices for the sake of cash from tourists. These are not people smilingly tolerating a condescending middle class for the sake of a few more crumbs off the table. These are people saying that here’s a culture worth aspiring to. There is no cultural cringe here. 

        It all appears to meet the needs of the travelling middle class – here for the weekend. They can possibly take or leave the music but value the culinary experience, more for the gathering than for the food. After a three-hour, characteristically boisterous lunch, (plenty of “một, hai, ba . . . dô !!!” from every direction) the visitors melt away back into the foliage and the hosts reflect on another day in which their culture was protected rather than diminished.

Co-existence is mutually beneficial rather than one-way traffic. On top of that, it’s a beautiful place. And Linda likes the weather: “I’m liking the temperature.” The mystery is why this place is not on the main international tourist map.

Nao ho from Buôn Ma Thuột,


Other photos from hereabouts

Đray Sáp Waterfall
in front of the bungalows
near Liên Sơn
brightly-coloured chameleon at M’Drak

2 replies on “loud and proud”

This is a fantastic post that painted a well-defined picture of the Vietnamese ethnicities and their cultures. In fact, I am surprised at how you and I, both went to the same place at different times, and still have the same feeling and memory as each other.

I went to these places when I was a small child, and even till this day, I am still so proud of the Vietnamese ethnicities that you encountered. However, I never got a chance to reflect my journeys through a blog post, and I’m so glad that you were able to.

Thank you for that.

Thanks for your positive comment Thien. Perhaps the epistle might motivate both of us to rekindle the memories of the ethnic groups one day. It was great to see an ethnic minority doing a whole lot more than merely hang on.

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