Nà Vị Village in the northern province of Cao Bằng charms all nostalgic souls with its ancient stone houses and unique traditions that have been maintained by generations of the Tày ethnic people.
Located at the foot of Phia Cao Mountain, about 100km from Cao Bằng City, the village is home to 110 households with 349 people, most of them are Tày ethnics.
Taking a walk along the flat paved road, on which both sides are green paddy fields and rows of bamboo, visitors can immediately feel the calm and the peacefulness of the area. Through the early morning mist, the ancient stone houses gradually appear at the end of the winding road. Traces of time can clearly be seen in the faded colours of their tiles.
Nông Văn Thịnh, vice chairman of the Minh Long Commune People’s Committee, said: “This village has a very long history. Each of the houses was built by local people with stone, mainly quarried in the surrounding mountains, so they are very durable. After more than 100 years, the stone houses still stand the test of time.”
Among nearly 100 stone houses in Nà Vị, 40 retain their original architecture and have been home to three to four generations of the Tày living together.
According to the elderly, these stone houses might be 100 or even 150 years old. Whenever one is broken down, its owner will find appropriate stones from nearby mountains and use sand in the river or stream beds to fix it themselves, which helps preserve its original structure over time.
It takes from one to two years to complete a three-room stone house in Nà Vị Village. Each house is from 7-8m high and roofed with terracotta tiles. Created from stones of various sizes, stacked and bonded with a mixture of limestone and sand, the 30cm-thick walls are firm and solid, helping to make the house cool in summer, and warm during the harsh winter of the north.
Besides the ancient houses, Nà Vị is also preserving a hundred-year-old handloom.
Nông Thị Phượng, an 81-year-old fabric weaver in Nà Vị, said: “In the past, weaving was considered a norm to evaluate a Tày woman’s virtue, ingenuity, and diligence. Therefore, most of the women in the village were very skilful in spinning and weaving. Many families had one or two handlooms for making costumes and household items like curtains, blankets and baby clings.”
According to her, the woven fabrics also have both material and cultural meanings.
“People in the village used to weave various items as a dowry for their daughters when they got married to supplement their future daily needs, such as closing, curtains, blankets, baby slings or bags. These products would accompany the women in the village from birth to death,” she added.
The traditional costumes of both Tày men and women are woven from cotton yarn and dyed indigo, having almost no decorative patterns. The women’s clothes might include linen indigo belts. Though most of the villagers have switched to wearing modern clothes during their daily activities, for convenience, traditional clothes are indispensable on special occasions like weddings or funerals.
Visitors to the border village might also have a chance to listen to a traditional art form of the Tày – then singing, which was recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Like traditional clothes, then singing, accompanied by the sound of tính musical instrument, is an integral part of local rituals, festivals and fairs. It is also a means for the local youth to confess their love for their boyfriends or girlfriends.
Nông Đức Tướng, a member of the then singing club of Minh Long Commune, said: “Ever since I was a child, I have been immersed in the rhythms and lyrics of then songs of my father and our neighbours. I was taught about the melodies by the elderly when growing up, which were gradually absorbed into my mind and became a passion.”
Even though he is 82 now, Tướng is still collecting ancient tunes, composing new then songs praising the native land and people, and teaching the younger generations then singing, to pass down his passion.
A visitor to the village, photographer Vũ Khắc Chung, said he was particularly impressed with the original structure of the ancient houses in Nà Vị that have been preserved by local people, as well as the hospitality of the villagers and the naïve smiles of the children.
From Nà Vị Village, tourists could also visit numerous nearby tourist attractions of Cao Bằng like Ngườm Khu Cave, Phia Cao Mountain, and Tô Thị Hoạn Temple.
The local authority is building a plan to turn Nà Vị into a community-based tourism destination with homestay facilities to meet the tourists’ wish to spend the night in the lost-in-time village. VNS
Vietnamese woman brings new life to village of alcoholics
A woman saves the life of alcoholics in Dak Pao Village, Son Mau Commune, Son Tay District, Quang Ngai Province. Alcohol used to be their barrier to poverty reduction in the village.
Dinh Thi Hang, chairwoman of Son Mau Commune Women’s Union, is this woman. She helped locals fight against alcohol “ghost” in Dak Pao mountainous village.
Village of alcoholics
The path from the heart of Son Mau Commune to Dak Pao Village is as charming as a painting in the cool weather. Hills stretch to the horizon while local farmers are in the fields.
Dak Pao is home to Ca Dong ethnic people.
Hang said that several years ago, it was common to see drunken men lying next to their motorbikes on the streets in Dak Pao.
“Ca Dong people often drink, but in Dak Pao, they drink too much. They drink until they get drunk and fall.
“Their health may not be good enough to work with the drinking habit. The number of alcoholic men was higher than the number of working men,” said Hang.
Of course, the poverty in the village was the result of drinking.
Figures showed this fact. The village had 50 households but half of them were poor.
Every home had alcoholics. In some families, both the wife and husband were drinkers.
As their kids were not taken care of, teachers and the local government were forced to step in.
Hang said people called it the alcohol “ghost” village instead of Dak Pao.
Dak Pao is half-hidden in Truong Son Dong Forest, where the real torments were caused by alcoholic drinks.
Domestic violence was among them. Drunken men lost their minds and beat their wives and children.
When the husband could drink, his wife also drank. They drank despite their poverty.
“Although officials came to advise them, they deeply abused alcohol, causing domestic violence. The broken-hearted scene I witnessed was kids having cold meals while their parents got drunk,” Hang shared.
Fighting against alcohol “ghost”
Son Tay is the poorest area in Vietnam. Poverty reduction and education are going to be key targets in the next few years.
However, its economy has improved in recent years.
In June 2019, Son Mua Commune People’s Committee and Party Committee hosted a meeting on local economic development.
Hang attended the meeting and proposed getting rid of alcohol drinking in Dak Pao, which was the best way to help the village escape poverty.
The Son Mau Commune authorities totally agreed with her.
|Dinh Thi Hang (right) talks to Dinh Thi Vum, whose husband used to be an alcoholic. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre|
Years ago, villagers chose alcohol rather than their job. Officials even saw them getting drunk in the afternoon although they had just advised them to give it up in the morning.
Hang proposed her plan “Women say no to alcohol drinks” and conducted the plan in Dak Pao first.
“I think that women are easily approached as they may be too tired of drunken men in their family,” said Hang.
Hang knew that it was such a difficult journey but villagers could not get rid of poverty if they continued drinking.
The Son Tay Commune Women’s Union set up a team to oversee villagers.
Her plan finally got the initial rosy results. More and more villagers gave up drinking and returned to their fields.
“Those getting back to farming work become a mirror of others,” shared Hang.
A new life in Dak Pao
Dinh Van Ton and his wife Dinh Thu Muoi both used to be alcoholics. They now have a better life thanks to Hang’s team.
The couple was punished many times because of getting drunk as they had committed legally themselves to giving up drinking before.
When they got sober, the couple realized that they received a lot of punishment records.
Since then, they stayed away from drinking and their mental health was better, too.
Currently, to earn their living, Muoi collects wattle tree bark while her husband collects coffee beans in the Central Highlands.
“I feel better since I stopped drinking. So does my husband. We now try to work to make a living,” Muoi said with a smile.
Like the couple, Dinh Thi Vum’s husband used to be an alcoholic. When he got drunk, he beat his wife Vum.
She could not stand him and even walked 20 kilometers in a forest to return to her parent’s home with her kids.
Hang and her team had to advise Vum and her husband. Fortunately, the husband realized his mistake and apologized to Vum. He also promised to stop drinking.
“My family got better thanks to Hang. We now have enough money to build a new house,” said Vum.
The family of Dinh Thi Nhieu also got a good result when giving up drinking.
“I feel happy since I stopped drinking. My kids now study better,” Nhieu said.
Dak Pao currently has only 15 poor households. Many local students have passed the university entrance exams.
HCM City to host ASEAN food festival
HCM CITY HCM City is hosting a food festival featuring traditional cuisine from Southeast Asian countries in the downtown area from November 24-27.
The event is organised by the HCM City Union of Friendship Organisations (HUFO) and its partners, the Việt Nam–ASEAN Friendship Organisation, to mark the 55th anniversary of the South-East Asian block.
Hồ Xuân Lâm, HUFO’s vice chairman, said the event aimed to promote friendship and cooperation among people in Việt Nam and other ASEAN countries.
The festival includes 46 stalls showcasing food, tea, coffee and specialities from restaurants and businesses from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Việt Nam, as well as universities and colleges in the city.
There will be performances of traditional music and dance from ASEAN countries, street art performances and cooking shows.
The festival takes place on Lê Lợi Street on District 1, and is expected to attract a large number of visitors. — VNS
Cỗ lá, the food tray that demonstrates Mường ethnic culture in Hòa Bình
For Mường ethnic people, especially those living in Hòa Bình Province, cỗ lá (literally means a food tray displaying several dishes) is more than just a popular food. The food tray represents Mường culture and is an integral part of important occasions, weddings, funerals, New Year or new house celebrations.
A traditional food that has been kept and inherited from generation to generation of Mường people, cỗ lá is unique – from the selection of ingredients to the way of cooking and the food presentation – through which to present the conception of human life of Mường people.
Bùi Xuân Phú and wife Nguyễn Thị Vi run Mường Thàng Quán – a restaurant specialising in Mường dishes in Hòa Bình City for 20 years. To create the distinctive yet natural light sweetness of the dishes, all dishes presented on cỗ lá should be prepared with wild leaves and vegetables collected in forests or gardens.
“Depending on the scale of the event, a cỗ lá should consist of at least seven different dishes, including the compulsory ones of cỗ ngọn (slices of boiled pig liver, heart, and maw), boiled pork, chả lá bưởi (grilled pork in pomelo leaves), grilled pork in banana leaves, gà đồ măng chua (steamed chicken with sour bamboo shoots), rau đồ (steamed wild vegetable), and canh loóng chuối (soup cooked with wild banana stem),” Vi said.
The Mường woman also said that it takes at least one and a half hours to prepare a cỗ lá because “you have to finish cooking all the dishes before displaying them all on the tray.”
To grill the pork, Vi said that it’s necessary to marinate with lá mắc mật (clausen indica leaves) and hạt dổi (wild pepper) to get the aromatic flavour for the meat.
The steamed chicken with sour bamboo shoots should be chopped into bite-sized pieces before mixing with sour bamboo shoots and a little bit of salt, then wrapped in banana leave and steamed for about half an hour.
“The tip to making this dish good is the ingredients. Hen is preferred as its texture is more tender. To make the sour bamboo shoot, we use only the bamboo shoot of giang (a kind of green-trunk bamboo) as it retains the natural sweetness after being fermented,” Vi revealed her cooking tricks.
The savoury and palatable canh loóng chuối is cooked with wild banana stem, pig bone, and lá lốt – a kind of aromatic leaves.
Her husband Phú said there are some rules for the presentation of cỗ lá.
“The presentation of a cỗ lá for a wedding or festive event must be different from the one for a funeral,” he said. “A tray must be spread with a banana leaf cut in half. However, for the wedding, the tip of the leaf has to point out; on the contrary, for a funeral, the tip has to point in.”
In the old days, Mường people used only wild banana leaves to spread on the tray. But nowadays, when finding wild bananas is inconvenient, they can replace by other kinds of banana leaves, except the aromatic banana “because it has lots of acrid resin that can harm the taste and flavour of the food displayed on it,” Phú said.
He also said that to prepare cỗ lá for important occasions such as weddings or new year celebrations, each family has raised pigs and chicken for a year before butchering the best ones to offer to the ancestors.
In the past, wealthy families used an engraved copper tray to display cỗ lá while ordinary people used the bamboo tray.
According to the 65-year-old restauranteur, seating arrangement rules had to be followed in the old days.
“In the Mường stilt house, the side with windows has been specified as the ‘upper place’, which is for elders only, and the younger ones sit next, in order from old to young,” Phú said.
Due to modernisation, traditional custom has been fading. Many can not speak the Mường ethnic language, and they don’t use the correct Vietnamese word when they mention cỗ lá.
“Many of our guests, especially the young ones, when they place an order for cỗ lá, instead of asking for a mâm cỗ lá (a tray of cỗ lá), they used mẹt cỗ lá (flat winnowing basket of cỗ lá). In our culture, the flat winnowing basket is used to offer food for the Hungry Ghost,” Phú said.
Nguyễn Xuân Tùng, a tourist from Hà Nội, said that although he had many chances to taste cỗ lá when he travelled to many places in the northwestern region, the one he sampled at Mường Thàng Quán is the best.
“It’s not only about the food, but about the rich ethnic culture presented through every dish, especially the traditional customs and stories told by the restaurant owners, who are authentic Mường people,” Tùng said. — VNS
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