Saturday, August 08, 2009

Hill Tribes

As part of exploring the countryside in both Vietnam and Laos, we've
had the chance to vist with some "hill tribes" "minority people" or
"local tribes" - large composed of h'mong people displaced from
Mongolia. Their existance is largely based on subsistance farming,
with a bit of income from selling handicrafts to tourists.

Interestingly, in both Vietnam and Laos different tribes live within
about a kilometer of each other, and as a result of their traditions
and culture have significantly different standards of living. For
example in Vietnam one tribe keeps fish and ducks to sell in addition
to their rice, while their neighbours only farm rice. The former enjoy
larger homes built slightly raised from the ground, while the later
live in smaller dwellings built on the cold earth. When asked, the
guide explained that the tribes are too proud of their traditions to
copy what the other does better - even after hundreds of years.

The contrast between Laos an Vietnam is also interesting, as in
Vietnam the government has provided some level of support for the
tribes and used tourism to provide an income stream, while in Laos the
tribes seem to live in a status akin to a trailer park - for lack if a
better comparison.

As I said before, I wonder whether visiting these tribes is truely in
the best interest of preservation, however upon seeing the conditions
here in Laos, it seems it is a positive to have the government act to
try and preserve rather than simply relying on the natural course of
things.

A few othe points of interest;

• in Laos the hill tribes used to make a living growing poppy for
opium

• some of the hill tribes believe in multiple wives, while the budist
tribes do not

• male / female relations are still in a very different place than at
home. We are continually surprised at how these views are applied even
to us.

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