A PORTRAIT OF THE NORTHERN & CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, VIETNAM | Pt 1.

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Cao Bang Province, - 19-21.08.16/08-10.10.16
Lao Chai Village, Lao Cai Province - 09.12.16
Na Phon, Mai Chau, Hoa Binh Province - 09.12.16
Pa-Co Village, Hoa Binh Province  - 09.12.16

has been populated by people of the Black Hmong for generations. Traditions are of craft and survival are becoming transitional.
Artistry: Hemp. Natural dye (indigo), traditional loom weaving,
collandering, Batik (bee's wax).

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I NOTICED THE ABSENCE OF A GENERATION. THERE WAS A ABUNDANCE OF CHILDREN, BABY-SITTING GRANDMA'S, DRUNKEN GRANDPA'S AND MIDDLE AGED PEOPLE GOING ABOUT THEIR WORK, BUT NOT A SOUL TO BE SEEN OF A LATE-TEEN NOR 20-SOMETHING. IT BECOME APPARENT THAT THE MODERN DYNAMIC OF THE BLACK HMONG IS COMPLEX AND THREATENED.

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NIC SHONFELD

INTERVIEW EXCERPT:

A FADING CULTURE | THE NEED OF EDUCATED YOUTH INPUT IS INTERNALLY ENCOURAGED AND MOST CRITICAL

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GIA: At first, we didn't work in groups. In 2004, when I started working  in the Woman Union, the groups scattered around. The road was not built yet, and no tourists passed by. We had no idea about cooperation, and life was too hard for us at that time, extremely hard. We used to pass these old muddy pathways. In 2006 I think, this road was open, and there were many tourists visiting our village. We were thinking of selling our clothes to them. I mean we gave it a try, and it was successful, then we collected both our new and old clothes. The new ones made of modern material were less attractive to the tourist, as the colours usually fade. They prefer our traditional clothes. Gradually, our clothes are popular among tourists.  In 2009, organisations like Craftlink rolled out the project here and provided us the opportunity to learm new skills and knowledge. They suggested a few ideas on weaving process and team work. I applied what I learnt into our actual work. In 2010, we formed three groups. The last one is from other village where you are staying. We have one of our shops there and two shops here. One belongs to So, and the other is Dua's. The last one is of Do. We have three shops in total, which were open in 2010, 2011, and 2013.

This is our long tradition. We value our traditions, but some parents nowadays do not really care and don’t pass the skills to their children. As the result, some children don't know how to weave and embroider. I am afraid that our traditions might not be maintained. In my family, I love our traditional work. I usually wear our traditional clothing when I participate in community activities, and my kids have their own traditional clothes as well. On some special occasions like Vietnamese Teacher's Day 20/11, they always put on their traditional clothes. I think this is how we keep traditional culture alive. I have also teach my daughter embroidery. Now she can make some simple patterns. On the other hand, bee wax painting is fading. I myself plan to learn more about it, but still not happening yet.
There are workshops for women in the village, the women who are younger than me, they are more knowledgeable. Previously, women hardly talked in meetings. Some of them did not say anything in front of the crowd. We tried to encourage women to speak out, or communicate to one another within the community. Women are now more open. They can speak in front of public to express their feelings and expectation. However some women cannot speak Vietnamese, so we often help them with translation.
The younger generation pay much attention to education, and their learning is active. People know that education is very important. We take care of our families, and send our children to school. Some women even attend college, or university, and they wish to pursue higher education to extend knowledge. As a team leader, I hope that I can continue supporting the women in many ways, for example finding their happiness, reducing domestic violence, or increasing income.

MAY: I really enjoy working with different groups. Working in group is great, as we always support each other. For example, if a member doesn’t know something, the others will help her.
That’s the reason why I like working in groups. We also support each other to overcome difficulties. We help each other a lot, but I cannot remember at all. It is quite hard for me to express my feelings. Previously I had no idea about what I should do. After joining the union with Gia, I have learnt a lot to support my family and others in my village. I have learnt from the women union that we should be hard working,  do farming, clean up the house, and send children to school. We should have fewer children to ensure effective parenting. There are a lot of things but I don't know what to say (smile)

SO: I am 42 years old. Yes, I am living here. My parents are also living in this area. Yes I have been living here for a long time. I am not a new-comer in this village. When was your shop open? It has been open for four years. That is my own work, not with Gia. I made them all. No one involves in the process. I buy the materials, I made it all from sewing to selling. Some women previously showed me how to sew an owl, or an elephant. The shop is mine, I made all the products. Do the women in the area work in group, or join a community? - Yes, we used to, but not any more. It finished. In the past, I used to grow corn, and work on the field. If we didn’t work, we would not have food. Thanks to the shop, my income has increased, I can buy food and afford for my children to go to school. No, I haven't hired anyone. I run the shop by myself. I don't have enough money to pay the assistant. Sale is not good at the moment. Sale is not good at the moment. I couldn’t sell even one product for 1 week, sometimes even no sale in a month. My products are quite similar to those in Sapa. Tourists usually visit Sapa first and buy the products in Sapa. When they visit my village, they already buy the products so they don't want to buy the same things from me.

If I have time, I will open the shop every day. When I am busy on the field, I couldn't be there, and the shop is closed. I have earned some money - but not a lot. My shop is open; there are a lot of tourists. They come to my shop, take a look at the weaving, indigo dyeing process, or corn grinding, and bee wax painting. A lot of tourists visit my shop every day, but they hardly buy anything. They enjoy watching the cloth making process, and that’s it. They already buy the products in Sapa.

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These excerpts were taken from interviews conducted by Nga , Grace Cumming and The essex girl. The interviews were part of ongoing The British Council 'Old For New' initiative. The interviews were first shown at The Phieu exhibition (Ly Dao Tu) to accompany the artistic responses of the works by Vu Thao, Claire Driscoll and Nic Shonfeld.


British Council - Old For New Programme
Phieu Exhibition - insert here
British Council - Old For New Programme

Phieu Exhibition - insert link
British Council - Old For New Programme

Phieu Exhibition
Kilomet 109

Claire Driscoll

Help out...

BLUE DRAGON CHILDRENS CHARITY + JUSTGIVING?

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If you feel like helping out, you can! There are so many simple little things you can which really do. If you feel like helping out, you can! There are so many simple little things you can which really do. If you feel like helping out, you can! There are so many simple little things you can which really do. If you feel like helping out, you can! There are so many simple little things you can which really do. If you feel like helping out, you can!


 

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