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Vietnam flagPhoto essay:
Vietnam Bicycle Tour: Imperial Roots (Central)

   

Quang Ngai – Kon Tum (160km, 100mi) (elev 750m). Leave Highway 1 and head to the scenic and culturally rich Central Highlands

Points of interest: picturesque valleys and mountains, Mandan Pass and Violac Pass, Hre and Jarai ethnic minorities, long houses, stilt houses, brick kilns, Kon Tum, monastery

 
  rice fields A not insignificant aspect of the day is we get off of Highway 1.  A real bonus is some very beautiful and interesting country.   Flat rice-growing valleys extend about 40 miles into the interior.  The region is inhabited by the Hre, a Mon-Khmer / North Bahnaric people. rural house
  countryside Hre is an official ethnic community in Viet Nam.  They are wet rice farmers and raise buffaloes, pigs, dogs and chickens.  Traditionally they built long stilt houses with thatched roofs, often just up the side of the valley from the flood plain (left).  They are patrilineal, but boys and girls can inherit.  Wedded couples can reside with either the bride or grooms family.  For the wedding, there is a bonding ritual in which the couple exchanges a bowl of wine or betel nuts, or they could be tied together by one string.  The names of newborn must not coincide with name of a lineage member.  river
  grave-houses Burial in boat like coffins, which are then interned under decorated grave-houses.  Widows(ers) can marry the spouses sibling of the opposite sex.  grave-house
  grave-house Hre literature includes a rich body of  folktales and poems.  Music uses gong, drums, flutes, and two-stringed zither  
  Mandan Pass At the end of the valley there is a steep climb to Mandan Pass and the central highlands. central highlands
   central highlands The central highlands range from fairly flat plateau to quite hilly plateau.  rural store
  Natural forest Natural forest (left) is quite mixed and dense, but increasingly rare.  Some of the natural forest is being replace by pine forest (plantation) (right) for present and future harvest. pine forest
  logging camp Market in "logging camp" Central highlands
  Dak Po River valley After passing Violac Pass there is a nice run down into the Dak Po River valley. Abrupt road edge sign
  Fire danger sign in Vietnamese On the western slope of the highlands it is considerably drier.  At the time this picture was taken there was a severe drought in the southern Central Highlands and the fire danger was extreme. Terraced rice farms, Kon Ray
  rice farms stretch up valley

rural house & pineapples

This is the area of the Jarai or Gairai, a Malayo-Polynesian / Chamic ethnic group, an official ethnic community in Viet Nam. They primarily cultivate rice (right) and corn, with rotating cut and burn method, traditionally using simple agricultural tools such as the cutlasses and digging sticks.  Nowadays it is more common to see ploughs and harrows drawn by buffalo and cows.  There are permanent, terraced, rice fields in valleys (top). There are also non-traditional crops like pineapple (bottom).  Bridge at Kon Ray, Dak Po River, Kontom District
Bridge at Kon Ray, Dak Po River, Kontom District
  rural house  Animal husbandry includes: buffaloes, cows, elephants (in west for transport), pigs, dogs and chickens.  Handicrafts comprise carpentry, forging and weaving with an Indonesian style. The Jarai live in long and small houses built on stilts.  rural house
  long stilt house

Rong houses

Each village (ploi or boun) has a communal house, either long stilt houses (top) or Rong houses (bottom).  Villages are lead by an elderly man who has prestige.  Traditional families are matrilineal.  Women play an important role in their family.  Women take the initiative in the matrimonial relations.  Traditional polytheistic religion,  They worship different kinds of spirits (Yang) such as: Spirit Protector of the House (Yang Sang), Spirit of the Village (Yang ala Bon) and Spirit of the Kings (Yang Po Tao).  The most important festivals are the “abandonment of the tombs.”  They also organize ceremonies to pray for rain and to celebrate a new house.  The have a rich tradition of oral literature.  
  cemetery Jarai are buried with their mothers family when they die. These graves don't have the funerary statues that are seen in some ethnic communities, but they are uniquely covered by thatch and metal roofs. covered grave
  Buddhist cemetery In the same area is this more distinctly Buddhist cemetery. Buddhist cemetery
  Viet Cong cemetery Adjacent to the Buddhist cemetery is a Viet Cong cemetery.  Though relatively sparsely populated at the time, the Central Highlands were fiercely fought over during the Vietnam-American War.  Some ethnic groups were accused of aiding the Viet Cong and others accused of aiding the Americans -- always by the other side and locals were largely defenseless to the outcome.  
  Kon Tum street scene Western culture shows its reach again in Kon Tum Kon Tum street scene
  Kon Tum bicyclists Bicycles are the primary means of transportation for students. Kon Tum bicyclists
   monument, Kon Tum   church, Kon Tum
  Cathedral in Kon Tum Cathedral in Kon TumThe Cathedral in Kon Tum; exterior (left) and interior (right) Cathedral interior, Kontom
  Cathedral in Kon Tum   Cathedral in Kon Tum
  Sculpture, Cathedral in Kon Tum A sculpture from a single tree on the grounds of the Cathedral in Kon Tum.  
  Ritual mast at the cathedral in Kon Tum Ritual mast at the cathedral in Kon Tum.  Usually these mast are associated with traditional religion, but the cathedral has several elements connected with indigenous ethnic groups including a communal Rong house (background left). Ritual mast at the cathedral in Kon Tum
  Former Catholic Monastery in Kon Tum Former Catholic Monastery in Kon Tum (left).  It has been closed by the communist government.  There are other monasteries still open in the country.  
   
 

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