Hanoi, May 12th 2010
First destination: Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Entrance fee: 25.000 dongs. Interesting for me it was for I had been always wondering about the origin of the Vietnamese. Are these people actually Chinese? They call themselves Vietnamese, but they look Chinese and act like Chinese. Being an Indonesian-born Chinese (My grandpa was born and grew up in China.) myself, I dare to say so. Acting like Chinese in a positive way is how I see Vietnamese develop their country. They are smart in seeking opportunities and work with zeal to turn anything into something. Frankly speaking, countries where the Chinese are given equal freedom are usually more developed than countries where the Chinese are faced by prejudice.
The other side of the Vietnamese acting like Chinese in my eyes is the way they deal with people regarding business. Very smart. Smart in quotation marks. As all my trips to Vietnam are private trips, meaning I arrange the whole itinerary myself, I have been dealing with a number of people. I think I've mentioned it before in my previous blogs that when you come to Vietnam, you need to bring your brain besides money. I have to evaluate everything I hear and read. I have to trust my brain more than my heart. Sincerity will be the last thing to expect. (This thing was even more confirmed after I visited Sapa which you'll read in my upcoming writings.) In short, I see my own folks in Vietnam. P.S. I don't blame those who hold prejudice against Chinese people.
So, back to the museum. I learnt how strong the Chinese influence is in Vietnam. They even had used the same characters for centuries. I stood in front of a showcase of Vietnam's old manuscripts and wondered whether I was actually in Hanoi or in Beijing.
It turned out to be a good thing that I visited this museum before touring Sapa where the focus of attention were the ethnic groups. When my tour guide explained about the various ethnic groups, I already had a rough imagination in my mind. I saluted myself for creating such a brilliant itinerary... hahaha.
I found other similarities too. But this time it was to my Indonesian folks. The buffalo ritual, the gong music instrument, the looking-alike-kolintang music instrument, the stilt houses, and the head covers wore by some women resembled the ones worn by Minang (West Sumatra) women. I also found some similarities to the Toraja (Southeast Sulawesi) tradition.Then I read the information that these ethnic groups of Vietnam are from the Malay-Polynesian language group. Oh. No wonder.
It suddenly looked as if Vietnam is a place where Indonesian and Chinese meet. However, I googled for "buffalo ritual in Vietnam and Indonesia" and my still very raw research says that the traditions were brought to Indonesia rather than from Indonesia. Let me quote a few.
Francesco Brighenti wrote:
This identification is reflected in the curved shape of the roof ridges as seen among the Minangkabau, the Batak, and the Toraja, suggesting the profile of buffalo-horns and/or of a boat—does this represent the ‘first boat’ by which the ancestors of these tribes reached the islands of Indonesia, or a mythological ‘water-buffalo-boat’ by which the same ancestors were carried off to the afterworld? This kind of a curved roof is already depicted on some Dong-Son bronze drums recovered in Vietnam (c. 500 BC – 100 AD).
P.E. de Josselin de Jong in his article about Indonesian studies wrote:
To begin the consideration of Southeast Asian agricultural rites... It deals with the Mnong Gar, so-called Proto-Indochinese people living in the upland of central Vietnam.
Justine Vaisutis wrote about Indonesian culture:
The Dongson culture, which originated in Vietnam and southern China around 1000 BC, spread to Indonesia, bringing irrigated rice-growing techniques, husbandary skills, buffalo sacrifice rituals, bronze casting, the custom of erecting megaliths, and ikat weaving methods. Some of these practices survive today in the Batak areas of Sumatra, Tana Toraja in Sulawesi, parts of Kalimantan, and Nusa Tenggara.
I'm no anthropologist. So don't consider this a professional research. What I want to say is that sometimes we say, "You and I are different." or "I am not like you." whereas we actually come from the same source. Either good or bad, that has been ours.