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Efforts are underway to help preserve the festivals and folk songs of Bru Vân Kiều people in Quang Binh province

Following the western section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Quang Ninh district, Quang Binh province, lucky travellers might have the good fortune to hear folk songs carried by the wind across the Dai Giang River. here lies a peaceful commune named Truong Son, which is home to people of the Bru Vân Kiều ethnic group. This commune is special because its residents still sing traditional songs during weddings, harvest festivals and at festivals to greet the new farming season.

To help preserve the local culture, music and arts, a program titled the Sustainable Development of the Mekong Sub-Region funded a two-year mission to help popularise old folk songs and encourage the locals to rediscover their traditional musical instruments. Preserving old ways is a challenge. even here, deep in the forest, modern life has brought many changes. Young people have no interest in wearing traditional clothing made from ‘tho cam’ (handmade brocade). They are unfamiliar with gongs, traditional flutes and other musical instruments. Throughout the Tay Nguyen – Truong Son highlands, less and less ethnic minority people continue to weave ‘tho cam’ and wear traditional clothes. The young now prefer to dress like city folk, listen to pop music on their mobile phones and leave their villages to work far away from home. The project’s officers faced a difficult task.

Only those with a passion for cultural preservation, such as Dieu Hoai, a young woman from the Cat Vang Media company, the project’s consultant organisation, and her colleagues are patient enough to live with the local people for months and make great efforts to recover their songs and traditional festivals. They started by meeting with elderly people and encouraging them to remember old songs. These songs were recorded and written on sheet music to teach young learners. Many traditional instruments have been forgotten. The project officers had to retrieve old instruments such as the tính-tùng, a-chum, a-mam and bring them back to life.

Bru Vân Kiều culture is rich and ancient. During the festival season, ‘sim’ singing and the sounds of tính-tùng and pơ-lựa instruments spread through the forest. ‘Sim’ singing is a style of love duet sung by courting men and women. each Bru Vân Kiều song requires a particular type of musical instrument. For example, the pơ-lựa is played by women and the tính-tùng by men. Van Kieu men typically took a ta-riêng (a small musical instrument) when going into the forest. They would play it while resting or meeting friends.

As well as love duets, Bru Vân Kiều people sing epics called si-nớt songs.While Ê đê and Ba na people gather around cooking fires in their communal houses (nhà Rông) to recount epic tales throughout the night, Bru Vân Kiều people sing their history and epics in melodious si-nớt songs. Preserving these epics is a key means of preserving Bru Vân Kiều culture. Thanks to this two-year program, some traditional festivals such one to welcome the new farming season (lễ cơm mới) and the seeding festival (lễ lấp lỗ), were recovered. These festivals include a ritual ceremony to present girls to the earth, heaven and the ancestors, and many folk games. When watching young and old people playing ‘rồng rắn lên mây’, and ‘chọi đá’ games we can appreciate the beauty of these traditional customs. At the festivals, women wear red agate bracelets and their best ‘tho cam’ clothes.

One of the project’s aims is to recover these traditional customs and festivals in order to develop sustainable tourism programs that will support local communities. In the future, visitors to Quang Binh will have many chances to explore the beauty and cultural diversity of Vietnam’s wild west.