12 Interesting Finds in the Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, Vietnam

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Entrance fee: 400,000 Vietnam Dong

       Vietnam comprises 54 ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its own cultural identity while still sharing certain similarities. The culture of the ethnic groups is a continuity of tradition, of mutual exchanges, and mutual influences across and within national borders, but also regionally, especially the influence of China, India, and Southeast Asia. Here are our 12 Interesting Finds in the Museum of Ethnology!


1.) Ritual Pole of the Co

The pole is about 13 meters high.

     The ritual pole is at the center of the thanksgiving festival. It is a pole for the ritual buffalo to be tied to and a ‘universal tree’ that connects the spirit world with human beings during the festival.

      Co people consider the ritual pole one of the most solemn things. It is produced by the villagers and composed of three parts. The top of the lower part and the bottom of the top part are able to be adjusted inside the middle part.

     The top pole causes the wooden drone bird to turn in the wind, which makes the other two drone birds under the pendant leaf sway. The Co use bamboo strips to weave a pendant leaf and to create two ‘large flowers’ for the bamboo pole, and threads of tree bark to create patterns along the top of the bamboo pole. Most of the ornamental focus is on the lower part, which holds a ‘spiritual tray’ with many designs.


2.) Gongs of the Muong


      In my country, the Philippines, we also have similar instruments like these Gongs. This could be one of the cultural maritime exchanges that happened in the ancient times.

        Gongs are musical instruments made of brass or bronze. A set includes 12 gongs of three types with different names, sizes, and tones. Chot gongs are 20-30cm in diameter and produce a high tone. Bong gongs, which are 40-50cm in diameter produce a middle tone. The largest are dam gongs which are 60-90, or sometimes even 100cm in diameter and produce a bass tone.

        Gongs accompanied sac bua songs during New Year festivals, wedding or funerals are normally played by women. Each musician plays one gong holding its strap and using a wooden mallet with a cloth covered tip to beat at the centre of the gong.

          Gongs are both valuable possessions and musical instruments of the Muong. In the past, noble Muong families used several sets of gongs at one time to celebrate important events.


3.) Funerals of the Muong


   The funeral is the most solemn rites of Muong people. The role of the ritual master is consoling the dead, guiding them to come towards their ancestors, and officiating a great number of rites.

    The coffin, dug in a tree trunk, is put in the house of the deceased. It is covered with traditional fabric and suspended below it are items of clothing that are offered to the deceased person by their close relatives. The children of the deceased are in white behaviour of mourning and the daughters-in-law wear red dresses. Everyday, people offer the deceased food and alcohol. The myths, the epode, and the genealogy of Muong people are recited all night long.

The funeral traditionally last for 12 days . However, nowadays, it is held for a maximum of 2 days.


4.) Ritual costume items of the Muong priest



5.) Ritual dolls for Hat Boi Singers



6.) Bike carrying fish traps


      Mr. Pham Ngoc Uy of the Thu Sy commune in Hung Yen province used this bicycle from 1982 to 1997 to sell fish traps throughout the Red river delta. He would often carry, as here more than 800 traps of different sorts, for catching small river fish.


7.) Religion of the Four Worlds


    The religion of the Four Worlds is very popular, especially in Northern Vietnam. The system of spirits is imagined like an imperial court ruling the four worlds: Sky, Earth, Water, and Forests.

     During the spiritual possession ceremony, spirits are invited to possess the male or female performers to reveal the activities of the sacred world. To ensure the joy and prosperity of individuals and communities, participants are believed to be able to communicate directly with the spirits through the mediums. These ritual ‘communications’ are usually theatrical and coded but also realistic.

8.) Tomb


        What is interesting in this tomb are the human figures who seem to demonstrate sexual penetration. Look at that phallus symbol already pointed to the woman figure.


9.) The Tapa



10.) Weaving of the Hmong


      The Hmong are well-known for their hemp fibre weaving that requires a number of steps. After the fibre is spun into thread, it is packet into rolls and pounded in a mortar for half an hour. This eliminates knots and makes the thread easier to weave. Then the rolls of hemp finer are boiled three times in water mixed with ash, and after each boiling the fibre is washed. Some beeswax is added to the last boiling to make the hemp fibre whiter, smoother, and stronger. Now the hemp fibre is ready for weaving.

      For their clothing, the White Hmong use hemp cloth that has retained its original white color. The Black and Flowered Hmong dye their hemp cloth an indigo blue and decorate it with batik designs.


11.) Initiation of the Red Tao from Yen Bai province


       Initiation is obligatory for men at their coming-of-age. The ritual certificate is also a passport for the soul to journey back to the ancestral land. Initiations also mark the attainment of the rank of the ritual master, one of the most respected careers in traditional society.

12.) Lau Then ceremony of the Tayimg_1148

      Lau Then is a religious ceremony held by a medium called then. It is celebrated to pay homage to the Emperor of Jade, or to mark the then’s promotion to a higher ceremonial rank.

     In some places, lau then is presided over by a woman then, and lasts an entire night, during which 5,000 lines of poetry are recited, relating the arduous journey of the ‘then army’. The long poem is tinged with myths and folktales, reflecting the Tay conception of life and the world. It mirrors their social relations as well as their spiritual and emotional life.

The Lau Then religious ceremony is very popular. It is represented in poetry, songs, dances, music, and beautiful decorations.


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