by Thuy Hang
HA NOI — Stories about the daily lives and unique cultures of seven ethnic groups are being recorded through thousands of images as part of the PhotoVoice project.
|A local music ban performs at the Dang Bong (Flower Offering) ceremony at Can Gio 2 Pagoda in Soc Trang Province. — VNS Photo coutesy of iSEE
PhotoVoice was created to help farmers and ethnic people around Viet Nam using digital storytelling methods to represent themselves and help others see the world through their eyes, according to programme manager Luong Minh Ngoc.
"Most of the information about Vietnamese ethnic groups, including research and photos, has been compiled by researchers," said Ngoc.
"It might be a good idea to let them speak about themselves, in their own words and from their own perspectives, because they will be much more objective than those made by outsiders."
The project has been conducted by the Institute for Studies of Society Economy and Environment (ISEE) with financial support from CARE and Oxfam in the northern mountain provinces of Lao Cai and Yen Bai, in the central province of Quang Tri, and in the southern province of Soc Trang. People from five different ethnic groups – the Mong, Dao, Pa Ko, Van Kieu and Kho Me – have joined enthusiastically in the programme.
Before the project began, iSEE held classes on the value of ethnic culture and cultural diversity, helping increase the group's pride in their culture as well as their awareness of cultural preservation.
The greatest challenge for PhotoVoice has been the young people who have joined the programme, Ngoc said.
"An increasing number of young ethnic people have poor knowledge of their own culture due to many reasons. Our task is to let them understand the unique value of their culture and to make them proud of it."
Photojournalist Hoai Linh has also taught the ethnic people about photography. Before going out to shoot images, members of each group have discussed topics for their photos. Every photo must also include a brief story about the image.
Many photos taken by the Dao and Mong people in Ta Phin Commune in Sa Pa District in Lao Cai focus on brocade embroidery – complex work that every woman is required to learn from a very young age.
The Pa Ko group took photos about their traditional customs, including the thoi la – a method to cure some injuries by using wild herbal leaves applied to the injury then blown – and di sim – a custom that allows teenagers to sleep together before marriage, where they can offer each other romantic love songs and learn more about each other before making a final decision to get married. If two fall in love, the boy will present the girl a silver bracelet or necklace symbolising his love.
Farming and traditional cultural activities were among the topics for the photos taken by the Kho Me group in Soc Trang.
The project will conclude with an exhibition that is expected to take place in a place where "many people will have a chance to learn more about the ethnic people and their culture through the images," Ngoc said.
It is expected that the exhibition will be opened on the Cultural Day for Vietnamese Ethnic Groups on April 19. — VNS