Hoi An, on the east coast of central Vietnam, has changed dramatically since we first visited in 2011. The old town looks much the same, but the town itself has become so popular with tourists that the streets, shops and historic sites are overrun with people.
And then there’s the traffic—cars, vans, buses, motorbikes, scooters and push bikes. It’s not an easy place for pedestrians. I’m surprised we didn’t see a steady stream of ambulances carting accident victims off to hospital.
But we did manage to find a divine haven that allowed us to escape the heat (most days it was 38°C or 100°F) and the crowds.
Two years ago, world famous photographer, Réhahn, established the Precious Heritage Museum as a way to permanently display his work done across Vietnam.
For eight years, Réhahn travelled from tribe to tribe, visiting and photographing 53 of the country’s officially 54 documented ethnic groups. He also found many subgroups. His goal was to capture the faces and the traditional costumes unique to each culture.
The museum displays 100 photographs and 62 traditional ensembles. Signage explains where each ethnic group is located within the country and how large the population is. One group has fewer than 400 members (2009 census) and the largest has almost 75 million. There are also stories about the costumes and the person shown in the portrait.
In many cases, Réhahn was given a costume by a group’s chief. Too often, the groups are down to one or very few traditional outfits.
Here are some summaries. Each group’s name is in the photo caption. My favourite is from the Lu. They are shown in the first photo and explained in the last entry below.
Meet the tribes
The Ha Nhi
The Ha Nhi number about 11,000 and are organised into two subgroups—the Black Ha Nhi and the Flower Ha Nhi. Réhahn met the former group, as well as a subgroup known as the Pink Ha Nhi. The Ha Nhi’s cotton, indigo costume takes up to six months to make.
The O Du
The O Du is Vietnam’s smallest ethnic group, with fewer than 400 members. Today they have only 5 original costumes left. Réhahn met Vi Thi Dung, the last woman making the traditional skirt. I’m guessing she is the person featured in the photo.
The Pu Peo
Réhahn had just 25 minutes in the Pu Peo village in northern Vietnam and near the Chinese border. He’s not sure why he was asked to leave so abruptly, but he managed to capture a quick photo of the oldest person in the village.
The Si La
The Si La keep their traditional costumes for special occasions. The silver coins are believed to bring good health and good luck. Réhahn was the first foreigner to visit the village in far northwest Vietnam. They came to Vietnam from the Philippines, via Laos.
The Pa Then
Huong, the 8-year-old old Pa Then girl in the portrait, was delighted to dress up in her outfit. Some schools require children to wear the traditional costume every Monday. Today only two people still know how to weave the fabric to make the brightly coloured outfits.
The Lo Lo
This ethnic group is divided into three subgroups—Flower, Red and Black. The bottom photo is the Black Lo Lo version, while the top is the Flower. Because it is covered with 4000 appliquéd triangles, the Flower version—is the most expensive at about US$1200.
The Phu La
The Phu La are reserved. Réhahn struggled to find someone willing to pose in a traditional costume, until he met the young girl (pictured) and her mother. While travelling, he also met the Xa Pho, a subgroup of the Phu La. He hopes to photograph them soon.
The Flower H’Mong
The Flower H’Mong is a subgroup of the H’Mong ethnic group and is named after their brightly-coloured traditional costumes. These detailed garments take up to 6 months to make and are so precious that they are considered heirlooms.
The Cho Ro
Réhahn spent two days with the Cho Ro, who were puzzled as to why he was interested in their traditional clothing. In the end, the chief gifted Réhahn the village’s last costume and his wife offered to pose in it for him. These outfits are no longer made.
This traditional costume was one of the hardest for Réhahn to find. He visited more than 20 villages before he came across the woman (pictured) who owned the last original version. The provincial government also holds several costumes for traditional festivals.
The Ro Man
The Ro Man live in a restricted area near the border with Cambodia. As a result, it took Réhahn three years to get permission to visit. He was given one of the village’s last 12 traditional costumes, along with a pipe and a basket.
The Cham live in the south central coast, along the Mekong Delta. They are considered to be the root of Muslimism in Vietnam. The picture is one of Réhahn’s best known works. The girl has blue eyes, inherited from her French paternal great-grandfather.
The Co Tu
For centuries, the Co Tu wore costumes made out of tree bark. They used five types of bark with solid fibres. These were beaten and then soaked in a mixture of water and spices for about 10 days. The museum holds the only known one in existence.
The Chu Ru
The Chu Ru is said to have links to the Cham group. They are also known for making good rice wine and wine jars. I was surprised by how similar their outfits are to the Indian sari. Réhahn was given a costume, as well as a ring and a musical instrument.
It took Réhahn several visits to the Ede before he managed to see and secure an original costume. In this case, he found a male outfit. The bright red frontispiece was traditionally reserved for those of high social ranking. Today it is wore for festivals.
The White and Black Thai
There are some obvious differences between the White and Black Thai—starting with colour (see below). This group is large, with more than 1.5 million people. It has good relations and connections with the O’Du group, which is introduced above.
Without doubt, this is my favourite portrait. The subject, 93-year-old Lo Van Bau, told Réhahn, ‘Why didn’t you come when I was still young and beautiful?’ I think she’s still as beautiful as anyone can ever be. What do you think?
Love these images
I hope you like these images as much as I do. This is one of the most remarkable and most rewarding museums we have ever visited. We bought one of Réhahn’s books. If you want to know more, please visit his home page.
P.S. WordPress is doing weird stuff tonight. I can’t seem to control photo placement or size. I wanted to show many more pics of this amazing museum, but WordPress is making it hard. Hope you enjoy what is here.