H’Re and now

Thanh Nien News. Original Vietnamese story by Tuoi Tre

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Ton Dung Reservoir, built in 1978, covers some 20 square kilometers in Ba To District, Quang Ngai Province. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
The central province of Quang Ngai boasts the only village in Vietnam where the H’Re people’s traditional style of brocade weaving has been preserved.
We decided to visit the village, called Teng, which is located some seven kilometers east of the province’s Ba To District.
From Quang Ngai Town, we headed to Thach Tru intersection in Mo Duc District on our motorbikes, some 30 kilometers away. Then we took National Road 24 westward for some 29 kilometers before reaching the center of Ba To.
At the foot of Lam mountain pass in Ba Thanh Commune, a red soil path led us to the peaceful village, now home to more than 200 families, mostly H’Re people.
A local artisan told us that in the old days, villagers did everything with their hands - growing cotton, spinning the fiber into yarn, dyeing the yarn, and weaving.
Now, people are buying the yarn they need, but the weaving style is still the same, she said, showing us skirts, loincloths, cloth-slings for carrying babies on the back, head scarves, blankets and other works by local women.
Unlike the brocade spun by people of other ethnic minorities, the H’Re use dark colors and simple decorative patterns created by weaving, instead of embroidery. While the patterns are simple, they have many variations that create images of the sky, clouds, rivers, mountains, forests, rice fields, leaves and fences.
Even though we were all keen to see local women weave the beautiful brocade, we did not see anyone in action.
According to the artisan we spoke to, until 20 years ago, every family had at least one person who was a master in brocade weaving, but now there were only around 25 people who could do it.
To make just one shirt took more than two weeks of work, and most young people were not interested in doing it, she said.
On that sad note, we left the village and visited the Ba To Museum, where hundreds of objects of the H’Re people were on display, including tools used in hunting, growing rice and other farming activities, as well as those used in traditional rituals and ceremonies.
The museum also has a H’Re stilt house with windows where many animal skeletons are hung.
A manager of the museum told us that of the 116,000 H’Re people in the country, more than 90 percent live in Quang Ngai.
The H’Re account for 84 percent of Ba To’s 50,000-plus population.
He said H’Re people in Ba To still celebrate traditional festivals and rituals like sacrificing buffaloes, praying for rain, and celebrating new crops.
Our next destination was the huge, 20-square-kilometer Ton Dung Reservoir, which was built in 1978.
The calm lake, surrounded by mountains and green forests, was truly a feast for the eyes. Its waters were so cool and inviting that we could not help taking a plunge.
Before leaving Ba To, we did not forget to check out local specialties of the H’Re people like thit trau nau xa ban – buffalo meat, intestines, blood pudding and skin cut into pieces and cooked with several local herbs, and ca nien nuong, a fish caught from local streams and waterfalls, skewered and grilled over coal, eaten with a mixture of salt and chili.
The dishes tasted even better when accompanied with ruou can, the traditional wine that is made in the Central Highlands without any distillation.
Long wall
Before reaching Ba To, we made a stop at Truong Luy, a fort believed to date back to the 19th century.
At the 19th kilometer milestone on National Road 24, we turned left into a path that led us to the national relic, some 400 meters away.
According to some experts, the defensive wall was jointly built by the Kinh and H’Re people with stones and mud during the reign of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945).
It was 127.4 kilometers long, starting in Quang Ngai’s Tra Bong District and ending in Binh Dinh’s An Lao District. At some points, it was as high as four meters, and as thick as six meters.
The section we saw was about two meters high and two meters thick, and almost hidden by surrounding trees – which added to its magnificence.

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