If you haven’t seen this stunning collection of many of the tribal groups in Vietnam, please click HERE to see them. They are beautiful.
French photographer, and Hoi An resident Rehanh, is making an effort to photograph all 54 tribal groups in Vietnam, many of them on the verge of extinction with only a few hundred people remaining. I wholeheartedly support this effort of highlighting the lives and cultures of these special people.
In my ten years living in Vietnam, I had the privilege of coming into contact and learning about various groups. As is stated in the photo essay, many young people leave their culture and assimilate into the “Kinh” or as we know them, the majority Vietnamese people. I taught in the Thai Nguyen Teacher’s Training University for several years and there were students from many of the far-flung provinces who were ethnically not Vietnamese, and would go out of their way to hide that fact. Not that they were ashamed, but so they could compete with everyone else without drawing racial distinction.
This reminds me of a conversation I had in the province of Hoa Binh with a high school girl from the ethnic group the Black Tai. (Yes, related to the Siamese, Thai, Laotian, etc…) I was staying in one of their long-houses over night as their guest, and we chatted in Vietnamese about her prospects of passing the university entrance exams coming up. Yes, she was planning to travel to Hanoi, a big commitment for her family, and try to pass the exams. It would most assuredly give her more opportunities in life. But in that rather sobering conversation I had with her, she told me she didn’t have a chance when competing head to head with the students in the capital city. The Black Tai students have an arduous walk daily just to get to school, trekking up into the mountains until they come across the closest village school. Of course, even if they make the long journey to get to school, their facilities are poor and their teachers poorly trained. The Hanoi students will have much better schools, and even better “tuition” centers in the evening which help them study for the test. Still, even in the face of daunting odds, this young girl was trying her best. I couldn’t help but be moved by her determination.
It’s sad to see the dying out of cultures. It feels like we will all miss a little bit of the human experience when some of these groups finally succumb to the whims of time. But at the same time, I can’t blame anyone of the younger members who decide that city life gives them a better chance at a better life.