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VietNamNews

Teacher fascinated by stilt houses

Update: December, 21/2014 - 12:00

A man from the Hong River Delta went to work among the Muong people as a teacher.

He became interested in their traditional houses, which are built on stilts and on steep hillsides.

He took it upon himself to learn a lot about the Muong ways of building houses.

In doing so he has helped the Muong people keep up their traditions.

Rebuilding: Carpenters and local Muong people restore an ancient stilt house.
Rebuilding: Carpenters and local Muong people restore an ancient stilt house. - Photo kienthuc.net.vn

Ha Nguyen 

Teacher Nguyen Xuan Thang has helped to preserve hundreds of ancient stilt houses of the ethnic Muong group at Lam Son Village in northwestern Hoa Binh Province's Luong Son District.

A graduate of the Thai Binh Intermediate School of Pedagogy in 1970, Thang, who hails from the Hong (Red) River Delta, moved to the isolated Lam Son Village to teach children at the Lam Son Primary School.

"When I arrived at the village, I found everything to be very strange to me, from the daily habits of the Muong people to their culture, particularly their way of building ancient houses on stilts, which I found to be quite attractive," recalled Thang.

Every day after teaching, Thang asked his students to tour isolated hamlets near Lam Son to enjoy the landscape and understand more about the residents and their culture.

"I found out that the Muong ethic group never build their house in line as Kinh people in the lowland do, but they always build their houses on stilts with either a hill or mountain behind them to make them convenient for daily activities," noted Thang.

A Muong house on stilts often has three floors or levels: the top is for storing food and family belongings while the middle is for daily activities and rest after work, and the bottom or ground level is for storing the tools of production and animals, cattle and poultry.

Each house owner could design and decorate the interior based on their own preferences, but the basic structure of compartments and rooms in the house are the same, observed Thang.

In the past, village residents often used precious wood such as iron wood and lat hoa (chukrasia tabularis) to build their house on stilts. Round and square wood are often used as house columns and are buried one metre deep in the soil.

But in modern times, to avoid pests such as wood boring worms and white ants, they often pave the foundation with stone or concrete before burying the house columns, revealed Thang.

In 1980, after 10 years of studying how to build the stilt houses, Thang began collecting construction materials for such houses.

He recalled, "At first, many people thought I was daft because no one has done this kind of work before. In spite of all that, I decided to collect materials for rebuilding ancient stilt houses. If I didn't do it, they could be lost for ever."

After class, he wandered around all corners of the isolated hamlets to collect materials thrown away by residents such as rafters, battens and pieces of wood from the stairs.

After several years, Thang's garden began to resemble a stockyard of stilt house materials. In 1990, he bought an ancient stilt house from an ethnic Muong family to further learn the technique of rebuilding the house.

He recruited a group of carpenters specialising in the repair and construction of stilt houses. But the work was not easy because many people preferred brick rather than stilt houses, and supplies of precious wood had since dwindled.

"I advise them to use wood from trees such as eucalyptus or acacia auriculiformis to build stilt houses," Thang recalled.

Thang and his group also knew how to position the Muong window to harness supernatural power. According to Muong customs and traditions, the window is the place where people could see off their relatives to heaven.

The number of steps on Muong stairs must be odd, such as five, seven or nine, in the belief that this preserves wealth, happiness, success and prosperity for the resident family and its descendants.

"At first, several families followed my advice. As a result, their stilt houses, built with acacia auriculiformis wood, looked as nice as houses built with precious wood and were aesthetic in appearance," Thang explained.

Bach Hoang Le, 82, an elderly resident, thanked Thang for successfully preserving his 300-year-old stilt house which he inherited from his ancestors. "Members of our lineage tell each other to protect the house for younger generations," Le said.

The teacher has so far helped village residents repair and preserve hundreds of stilt houses, including the most ancient one belonging to the Muong hereditary mandarin (before the 1945 August Revolution) and worth billions of dong.

In addition, Thang recently succeeded in repairing a dozen stilt houses of hereditary mandarins in Luong Son District's Nu Hoang Valley to enable travellers and tourists to better understand the precious values of the Muong ethnic group in Hoa Binh in particular and in Viet Nam in general.

Muong researcher Phan Cam Thuong lauded Thang's work, saying he has helped much in preserving Muong's ancient culture.

Hoang Ngoc Kieu, Lam Son Village chairman, said: "Thanks to teacher Thang, though he is from the Kinh majority, he devoted his time and efforts to helping the Muong people preserve their ancient stilt house and bring into play their special culture, which might have fallen into oblivion." — VNS

GLOSSARY

Teacher Nguyen Xuan Thang has helped to preserve hundreds of ancient stilt houses of the ethnic Muong group at Lam Son Village in northwestern Hoa Binh Province's Luong Son District.

To preserve houses means to keep them in the same condition as they were when they were first built.

Stilt houses are houses built on stilts, which are poles that keep them above the ground.

An ethnic group is a community that has the same religion, culture, language and race that is sometimes different to those of other people who live around them.

A graduate of the Thai Binh Intermediate School of Pedagogy in 1970, Thang, who hails from the Hong (Red) River Delta, moved to the isolated Lam Son Village to teach children at the Lam Son Primary School.

Someone who is a graduate of the Thai Binh Intermediate School of Pedagogy attended that school, studied a course there and passed it.

To hail from the Hong River Delta means to come from there.

Every day after teaching, Thang asked his students to tour isolated hamlets near Lam Son to enjoy the landscape and understand more about the residents and their culture.

A place that is isolated is on its own and far away from anywhere else.

A hamlet is a very small village.

"I found out that the Muong ethic group never build their house in line as Kinh people in the lowland do, but they always build their houses on stilts with either a hill or mountain behind them to make them convenient for daily activities," noted Thang.

If something is convenient, it fits in well what one needs and what one is doing.

Each house owner could design and decorate the interior based on their own preferences, but the basic structure of compartments and rooms in the house are the same, observed Thang.

Your preferences are what you would most like to have.

In the past, village residents often used precious wood such as iron wood and lat hoa (chukrasia tabularis) to build their house on stilts. Round and square wood are often used as house columns and are buried one metre deep in the soil.

Chukrasia tabularis is the scientific name for a tree, which has many common names. They are: White Cedar; Mahogany, East Indian; Indian Red Wood; East Indian Mahogany; Chittagong Wood; Chickrassia; Bastard Cedar.

But in modern times, to avoid pests such as wood boring worms and white ants, they often pave the foundation with stone or concrete before burying the house columns, revealed Thang.

Pests are things that are a nuisance and cause you trouble.

Wood boring worms are worms that dig into wood

To pave means to lay down stones and slabs to make a hard surface.

He recalled, "At first, many people thought I was daft because no one has done this kind of work before."

If someone is daft, they are stupid and crazy.

After class, he wandered around all corners of the isolated hamlets to collect materials thrown away by residents such as rafters, battens and pieces of wood from the stairs.

Rafters are beams on the inside of a roof.

A batten is a long flat strip wood, or metal, used to hold something in place.

After several years, Thang's garden began to resemble a stockyard of stilt house materials.

If a garden begins to resemble a stockyard, it begins to look like a stockyard.

He recruited a group of carpenters specialising in the repair and construction of stilt houses.

Carpenters are people who work with wood.

But the work was not easy because many people preferred brick rather than stilt houses, and supplies of precious wood had since dwindled.

If wood supplies have dwindled, they have become less and less.

Thang and his group also knew how to position the Muong window to harness supernatural power.

Supernatural power means power from the spiritual world and not from Earth. To harness it means to catch it.

The number of steps on Muong stairs must be odd, such as five, seven or nine, in the belief that this preserves wealth, happiness, success and prosperity for the resident family and its descendants.

Prosperity means wealth.

The descendants of a family are the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on.

Bach Hoang Le, 82, an elderly resident, thanked Thang for successfully preserving his 300-year-old stilt house which he inherited from his ancestors.

To inherit a house means to have it passed down to you after the last owner has died.

Your ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great grandparents and so on.

"Members of our lineage tell each other to protect the house for younger generations," Le said.

A lineage is a string of people who belong to the same family, including ancestors and descendants.

You and your brothers and sisters are one generation; your parents and their brothers and sisters are another and your grandparents and their brothers and sisters are another.

The teacher has so far helped village residents repair and preserve hundreds of stilt houses, including the most ancient one belonging to the Muong hereditary mandarin (before the 1945 August Revolution) and worth billions of dong.

A hereditary mandarin is a community elder who was born into that position in society.

Hoang Ngoc Kieu, Lam Son Village chairman, said: "Thanks to teacher Thang, though he is from the Kinh majority, he devoted his time and efforts to helping the Muong people preserve their ancient stilt house and bring into play their special culture, which might have fallen into oblivion."

Most people in Viet Nam are from the Kinh community, which makes them the majority population in the country.

To have fallen into oblivion means to be gone and forgotten.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

1.      A community elder.

2.      An event in history that happened in August 1945.

3.      The name of a type of tree.

4.      The isolated places that Nguyen Xuan Thang visited after school, looking for building material.

5.      A word used to describe somebody aged eighty-two.

 

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2014






































1. Mandarin; 2. Revolution; 3. Eucalyptus; 4. Hamlets; 5. Elderly.


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