September, 12 2012 09:10:59

Contours of history

by Le Huong


Magnificent terraced rice fields in Hoang Su Phi District in Ha Giang will receive the official title of National Relics from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Sunday. — VNA/VNS Photo Van Phat
HA GIANG (VNS)— The northeastern province of Ha Giang lures tourists from all over with its steep rock ascents hidden in blankets of clouds. In spring and autumn, buckwheat flowers bloom all over the valleys within the karst plateau.

Yet the soul of the land remains in the magnificent terraced rice fields in Hoang Su Phi District, which have been cultivated by local ethnic groups for hundreds of years.

On Sunday, those rice fields will receive the official title of National Relics from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. To celebrate the event, art and sports performances will take place in the province's centre throughout the day.

The recognised rice fields cover 760ha of total 3,000ha of fields in six communes: Ban Luoc, San Sa Ho (which belongs to ethnic Dao and Nung groups); Ban Phung (La Chi group); and Ho Thau, Nam Ty and Thong Nguyen (Red Dao group), where the fields stretch into enormous mountains.

Hoang Su Phi is located in the west of Ha Giang, 110km away from the province's centre. Its altitude is 1,000m above sea level.

"It is estimated that the terraced rice fields were created around 300 years ago, and have been handed down through generations by the district's 14 ethnic groups," Hoang Hai Ly, chairman of the district's People's Committee, told Viet Nam News. "The local terraced fields cover a larger area and are located at a higher altitude than the already recognised [as National Relics] terraced rice fields in Mu Cang Chai [in the northern province of Yen Bai]."

The fields also show that different ethnic groups employ different cultivation methods, he said.

Members of the La Chi group, for example, often create terraced fields in areas suitable for building other facilities. The most even surface would be used for building a house, a courtyard, garden, poultry cage and store house. Rice fields are always made above, below or surrounding the house.

The Dao and Nung always choose land near a water source for making rice fields, while Red Dao choose the most fertile area.

All locals know that to keep water on high mountains they should leave the forests on top of the mountain and make terraced fields only from the middle of mountains or hills.

Red Dao in Ho Thau Commune spare a small area of forest surrounding the terraced fields to avoid land slides.

Locals work from the top of the mountain or hill to the bottom, using simple tools like hoes, wooden rakes, shovels and curved knives.

Making field steps and building dikes on steps to hold water is a difficult task, which requires experience in cultivation. Steps on the La Chi group's terraced field often measure 20-30cm in width and dikes covering the steps often reach 15-20cm higher than the steps' surface. In the meantime, a step in the Dao and Nung groups' terraced field is as small as an adult's foot.

On steep land and near brooks, locals use rocks to avoid landslides and build dikes for steps by rocks and soil.

In order to use the magnificent terraced rice fields to improve people's lives, local authorities have tested a high-yield rice variety and will distribute it widely to locals if it is effective. Some new vegetables will be introduced this winter crop as well.

Ly said the local tourism department had co-ordinated with neighbouring provinces to create trans-routes linking Bac Ha (Lao Cai); Mu Cang Chai (Yen Bai) and the Dong Van-Meo Vac Karst Plateau (Ha Giang).

"We have proposed to tourism companies that they extract US$ 1 from each tourist's package money to pay locals, the real owners of the spectacular terraced fields," he said.

The Dong Van Karst Plateau in the east of the province, covering the districts of Quan Ba, Yen Minh, Dong Van and Meo Vac, was included in the network of global geoparks produced by UNESCO in 2010. — VNS

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