A legend passes

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Ama H'rin before he died at 81

Ako Dhong village in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak attracted scores of people this week who came to attend the funeral of a local legend, who died after five decades of spearheading local development.

Ama H'rin, 82, the leader of the Ede ethnic people, died November 24 after catching a cold from a rain in September.

He was an icon since arriving in the area in 1955 for modernizing the village while also preserving the culture.

H'rin was just 24 back then, and he chose the village after walking for days with his wife and children looking for a better land for cultivation.

Once he found the village had fertile soil and plenty of water, he returned home and brought more people over.

The village was already in good shape, with a clean water tank for public use and restrooms built by the French colonizers, and language classes.

H'rin was an excellent student who quickly became fluent in Vietnamese and French. He then used his communication skills to develop the area further.

Buon Ma Thuot, the town that includes the village, is known around the country and worldwide as a coffee-growing town, and that fame is owed to H'rin, who frequently visited French plantations in the area to learn about coffee cultivation and taught the other villagers.

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He collected coffee plants from around the area, which had no owners by grew from seeds scattered by birds and animals, to set up the first coffee plantation for the Ede, naming it after Ako Dhong village.

It gave the Ede a new, stable source of income.

But his bigger success was in the way he organized the plantation among 40 families.

He divided it into 40 pieces and gave one to each for a family, but made everyone work together on the plantation.

He publicly divided the harvest among the families, depending on how much each had contributed.

Families with sick members could ask another family to help, paying them for it after the harvest.

Villagers said they have lived like brothers and sisters, with hardly any fights or even arguments.

No one in the village has ever suffered from hunger since those doing better helped.

H'rin also persuaded his people to share coffee-growing techniques with other villages in the highlands, including with communities of the dominant Kinh ethnic group, though the latter and the French earlier used to keep this knowledge exclusively to themselves.

H'rin dealt directly with French and Chinese traders in Vietnam so that his villagers were not shortchanged by Vietnamese traders.

The economic successes saw H'rin being elected village head before he even turned 30, though the honor was usually reserved in the highlands for the oldest member of the community.

Under his leadership, Ako Dhong became a model village in the Central Highlands during the 1960s.

He ensured that the village retained all the Ede cultural traditions, while also adopting some modern practices from the French.

Thus, unlike in other villages in the area, people bred animals in captivity instead of letting them roam around and defecate everywhere. He also ensured clean water was provided to each household, and people slept inside mosquito nets.

The villagers was thus protected from malaria.

Ako Dhong was one of the first villages to send people to school, and it now has many university graduates.

H'rin himself had 10 children and 24 grandchildren, and many of them work as teachers, doctors, and government officials elsewhere.

He also adopted some Kinh children, sent them to school, and taught them how to grow coffee.

The village would often be visited by government authorities and foreigners, who would meet the young leader and have discussions in Ede, Vietnamese, or French.

One of his sons, Y Vang Arul, told Tuoi Tre newspaper that his father had been busy building an eco-cultural area in the village during his last days, with traditional Ede long houses that he had persuaded locals to preserve.

He had trees planted, lakes and streams dredged, and stilt-houses built.

H'rin was once quoted as saying by Tuoi Tre that "I'm not making money. My purpose is for everyone to learn about the culture of each other to understand, and live in harmony; we are all brothers.''

Amazed visitors, especially foreign people researching Central Highlands culture, have invited him to France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the US, and India.

He has been buried in the local cemetery.

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