Keeper of the cultural flame

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An ethnic Chu Ru elder in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong is determined his tribe's culture will not be obliterated by modernity

Ya Hieng weaves a traditional basket at his house in Lam Dong Province's Duc Trong District

Ya Hieng, the head of an ethnic Chu Ru village in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, is a worried man; he is worried if the Chu Ru way of life will withstand the onslaught of modernity.

So he has decided the traditions of his people will be kept alive and passed on to younger generations even if he has to do it single-handedly.

He had learnt the art of weaving bamboo baskets when he was young and has been making them for decades. He can also play the gong and make the Tet pole and ruou can wine. "I had to learn different things to teach them to the younger generations; otherwise, they will know nothing about our ancestors' traditional culture," he said.

He has taught all his eight children how to play the gong and make bamboo baskets. His gong teams, mostly comprising family members, have represented the district in numerous provincial contests.

Hieng has also taught hundreds of others how to play the gong and make the baskets through classes organized by the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

The chief of Préh RiYong village in Duc Trong District did something more impressive recently he won second prize in a national traditional house design contest.

The 60-year-old, who only studied up to junior high school, designed a typical Chu Ru stilt house for the contest organized by the Vietnam Institute of Architecture, Urban and Rural Planning (VIAP) in 2008.


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Working with just a ruler and a children's pencil, he drafted for two months before finally sending in a few A3 papers with his design.

It had all the typical features of a stilt house, including a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, a front door, a side door, a main floor, an additional floor, cylindrical columns, walls, and a thatched roof.

Vu Dinh Thanh, an architect and VIAP's deputy director, said Ya Hieng's entry "indicated his understanding of the techniques of construction of a typical Chu Ru traditional house. It was simple but significant."

Dr Nguyen Trung Dung, another architect on the VIAP, said the design "was very practical, expressing the ethos of the Chu Ru people in a precise way. It should be encouraged and publicized as an example of the desire to preserve the traditional architectural values of a culture."

"I have been living in a stilt house since I was born, so I understand a lot about it," Hieng said. "But I feel sorry that most stilt houses have disappeared from the village. I was afraid they will all disappear, so I drew a typical one and sent it."

He wants to build one of them but cannot afford the cost. He hopes the local government will provide him with financial support so that he can build one and exhibit all the objects used by his people.

"It is important to build a stilt house or at least a miniature because I am afraid the Chu Ru will not know about our typical stilt house when I pass away," he said.

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