A one-man show

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Dubbed a "living cultural treasure," one man is a repository of music, dance and martial arts of the ethnic minority community of Hmong people in the northern province of Lao Cai

 
Ly Seo Ho performs a piece of Hmong's martial arts in front of his house in Ban Pho Commune, Lao Cai Province

At 66, Ly Seo Ho looks like any other senior citizen of Ban Pho Commune, where about 568 Hmong families live in 13 villages, working in the fields during the day and returning home at sunset.

The famous traditional wine made of corn and some musical instruments are their companions at night.

But Ho has more on his agenda.

Every day, he receives visitors, both Vietnamese and foreigners, who want to see him perform folk songs, dances and even martial arts of his people that he has learnt and mastered over the past 50 years.

Before every performance, Ho, who knows 360 folk songs, invites his audience to a few generous sips of the Ban Pho's famous wine, because "after having some you will get a better feel of the performance."

Following the wine treat, he introduces the visitors to the traditional culture of Hmong with a pair of khen a wind instrument consisting of six bamboo tubes of different diameters and lengths.

Ho says the instrument is usually used by men at funerals and festivals, adding that to make a good khen, it takes a month of searching to get a suitable bamboo section.

"Khen is not only for making music, but also a dancing prop for a unique dance of the Hmong people, but these days very few people know it."

He said in the past Hmong men would have learnt the dance when they were 12 or 13 years old, but this does not happen now.

Although his age forces him to take a break every 15 minutes or so, Ho weaves various dances and songs into his performance.

For example, he would include a dance with another traditional instrument, senh tien a bamboo section with 12 copper leaves attached at two ends, creating a unique sound as its user dances. This is a dance that is usually performed by six to eight men and women at festivals.

When he has time, Ho can also tell stories about his people's traditional martial art skills, which applies two principles - using softness to fight hardness, and intelligence to fight strength.

Asked how much he charges for his performances, Ho smiles: "I'm happy to perform, be known and supported by people. Because I have the chance to introduce Hmong culture to friends from all over the world, I don't ask for fees."

However, some tourists do pay him, and Ho assumes it is for the wine.

"I'm old now. Every evening when I return from the field, I don't really do anything except have a drink," Ho said.

"When tourists visit my house, I sing and dance for fun, because nowadays, our young people prefer to work rather than learn our traditions." 

Still, Ho has not lost hope about the future of Hmong traditional culture in Ban Pho.

He says he is trying his best to preserve his knowledge and skills, and is hopeful that young people will find them interesting.

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