Land of heroes, diligent rats, music and dance

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Ba Na people dance and play cồng chiêng (gong) in Dak Smar Commune, K'Bang District, the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE Ba Na people dance and play cồng chiêng (gong) in Dak Smar Commune, K'Bang District, the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
As we made our way to K'Bang District, I reflected on an important fact about the destination that made me all the more curious about it.
The Central Highlands district was home to Dinh Nup a national hero in Vietnam's revolution against the French colonial regime.
Nup, belonging to the Ba Na ethnic minority, is the protagonist of popular war novel "Đất nước đứng lên" (The uprising country) by Nguyen Ngoc that we were taught at school.
Located in the northeastern part of Gia Lai Province, the district consists of a capital town and 13 communes. From An Khe Town, we went along 669B road to reach K'Bang. The road has many tricky turns, but it also has many trees that help lessen the trip's hardship for visitors.
Since we wanted to visit Ba Na villages, we had to make our way through roads named in the ethnic group's language that were quite difficult to remember.
Although it was in the middle of the rainy season, the sky was clear and allowed us to enjoy the sunrise. Instead of strong winds there were refreshing breezes.
The landscape was a painting masterpiece - a harmonious combination of green forests, yellow corn fields, and red soil newly turned over.
We visited K'roi Village in Dak Smar Commune. The village has mountains at its back and the Ba River in the front. An arched bridge more than ten meters long and some three meters wide helps residents cross the river.
We stood on the bridge, enjoying the breeze and the sight of the upstream area of the river where water flowed gently, but we were also saddened by the fact that the lower part was polluted and dried out by a nearby hydropower plant.
It was refreshing to see locals bathe in the water after a day of hard work. It looked much more relaxing and rejuvenating than a shower in a modern bathroom.
We headed next to Kon Pne Commune, where a traditional festival called lễ hội dúi (bamboo rat festival) was being celebrated.
The festival is only held by Ba Na people in Kon Pne, dubbed the "kingdom" of many species of bamboo rats. Locals consider the rodent species a symbol of diligence, so they organize the festival at the beginning of a new rice harvest, praying for a good crop. They also pray that their children will work hard.
The locals prepare for about a week to celebrate the two-day festival, including bamboo rats and a jar of rượu cần traditional wine that is made in the Central Highlands and does not go through any distillation.
After all the people in the neighborhood had gathered, the festival got going with a ritualistic prayer by an old patriarch. Then, men and women performed the traditional cồng chiêng (gong) and dance.
After hearing a lot about the Ba Na people's dancing, I finally had a chance to witness it with my own eyes. It was amazing. People danced and laughed endlessly with great energy, unmindful of an unexpected shower.
One young man told me: "The party will stop only when the fire dies."

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