Poverty pushed a man with four children into the wilderness of Binh Thuan Province.
The family lives in a small dirt-floor bamboo hut with a chicken coop, a trellis hung with gourds and a wood table in the front yard for guests – a perfect setting of a Vietnamese rural home.
Most of the time, the children (aged between 3 and 16) speak only one-word answers like “yes” or “no.”
None have ever attended school.
Local forest rangers said they first encountered the family in the early 1990s. The children have gotten used to them and no longer run and hide when they visit their father A Sang.
“They say little but they can understand everything you say. I turn on Ninh Thuan radio every night,” he told a visiting Tuoi Tre reporter.
The voices emanating from the radio appear to be their sole daily connection to civilization. Their feet provide their only means of transportation and the closest village is more than 20 kilometers away--a five hour walk.
A Sang chose to settle there 32 years ago when he was an 18 year-old porter hauling pine oil out of the forrest.
Sang and his wife (also a porter) took turns carrying their children out of the jungle whenever they fell ill They had to walk all night to save time.
But they weren't always in time.
Nguyen Thi Huong, the mother of four children, is Sang’s third wife.
His first wife died after a sudden fever; the second died in childbirth. He met both women while working as a porter.
One of the two children he had with his first wife died in infancy due to harsh jungle conditions.
Their surviving son --and a daughter Sang had with his second wife-- left the house several years ago to work in the lowlands. Without an education, they could only find menial jobs.
Huong was the younger sister of Sang's second wife. She agreed to marry him after her sister died.
“I love my niece, and I felt pity for Sang, and my friends kept talking me into it, so I agreed to stay here with him. It’s been nearly 20 years already,” the woman told Tuoi Tre.
Sang crosses the jungle once or twice a month to trade foraged items for rice and other necessities.
“The whole family eats nearly five kilograms of rice a day, so we can’t save a single dong,” he said.
Whenever Sang's old neighbors see him, they ask why he doesn’t bring his children back into town, but it’s a hard question to answer.
“We’d have no place to live if we came back," he said, "I had no choice but to raise them in the forrest.”
Sang relinquished his claim to his parents' home to his older brother Gip Nam Sang, who now occupies it with a wife and three children.
There are few valuables in the cramped mud-walled home, which leans on the house next door.
“He saw that our life was difficult, so he volunteered for the misery of jungle life to spare us,” the brother said.
Ly Nhan Va, a local, said A Sang rarely shows up and people have never seen his family.
“He’s so miserable that he has to keep his wife and children in the jungle,” Va said.
His hermetic lifestyle prohibits Sang from receiving government support.
Huynh Minh Chau, an official of his commune Hai Ninh, said Sang (who was born Gip A Duong) is an official resident of the commune, but he’s never around.
“And we cannot go deep into the jungle to help him,” Chau said.
Nguyen Le Thai Dung, a spokesman for the Bac Binh District government, told Tuoi Tre they will send officials to look into Sang’s situation.
“If necessary, we will raise funds to build a house so Sang can bring his wife and children out of the jungle,” he said.
A group of local Facebookers have raised VND25.5 million (US$1,200) to give to Sang’s family, according to the newspaper.
“We don't have enough yet for him to build a house, but we can help provide food for the children,” one of them said.
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