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Mixture of cultures adds to natural beauty, attractions

Update: December, 07/2012 - 11:24

Next Week

The widespread rumours about the Mayan apocalypse state that in December this year, Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, will collide with the Earth, resulting in the end of the world by the 21st of December.

Responsing to the fears of people around the world, the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have repeatedly dismissed the rumours, citing scientific evidence against it. NASA even has an entire webpage dedicated to answering questions and discrediting the doomsday rumours.

In late November NASA scientists warned against the dark side of Mayan apocalypse rumors: frightened children and suicidal teens who truly fear the world may be coming to an end.

The rumours, however, continue to spread and cause discomfort to many people as worldwide media coverage has pointed out. Even Wikihow have acknowledged the impact of the rumour by issuing an article titled "How to overcome a fear of 2012" to help people cope with the doomsday terror.

Do you believe in the doomsday rumour, and why?

If you do, what have you done to cope with the fear and to prepare for the day? Are your friends, family and acquaintances affected by the rumours and how?

If you don't, could you share with us how you think the rumour might have impacted the world in general and your country in particular?

Please reply by email to: opinion@vnsmail.com, or by fax to (84-4) 3 933 2311. Letters can be sent to The Editor, Viet Nam News, 11 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ha Noi. Replies to next week's questions must be received by Thursday morning, December 13.

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers for their thoughts on the diverse cultures of Viet Nam's ethnic groups and how to increase people's awareness on maintaining their distinctive features.

Here are some responses.

Adam Bray, American, Phan Thiet

I am very interested in Viet Nam's ethnic minority groups; particularly the Cham and related communities (Rai, Jarai, Raglai, Churu, Ede, etc). I'm fascinated by not only their ethnic dresses, but their traditional music, language, writing and ancient histories.

Viet Nam has recognised 54 ethnic groups, but in reality there are actually hundreds of distinct tribes living in the country, each with unique cultures.

Yet strangely, only five areas of the country have significantly promoted their ethnic diversity in the realm of tourism: The Mekong Delta (Cham and

Khmer), Ninh Thuan (Cham), Da Lat (K'ho), Buon Ma Thuot (Ede) and Sapa (H'mong and Dao).

Additionally, most of these ethnic communities benefit little from tourism directly, because it is the companies from other provinces that take most of the profit.

Many other areas of the country have significant minority communities that could benefit from sharing their culture and profiting from tourism, particularly Binh Thuan, Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Quang Ngai - really most provinces for that matter. But most importantly, it should be the local communities that are given the advantage to profit from the venture.

The media can help by bringing attention to these issues, and to continue to write stories about ethnic minority culture.

John McDonald, Australian, Ha Noi

The first thing I suggest would be to stop referring to ethnic people as minorities. This may be true, but it can also be disparaging.

It may also be important for all Vietnamese to realise that the modern nation of Viet Nam is largely blend of all these tribal people. For example, the tribal Muong people are considered one of the ancestors of the Kinh, the so-called Viet majority people.

Elements of the various peoples who make up modern Viet Nam can be found in a pure state among the hill people, whose cultural and ethnic ties link them not only to the Vietnamese but to Cambodians (Khmer, Cham), Lao (H'mong, White Thai), Polynesians (Cham) and the people of Southeast Asia.

This is exciting stuff. Most countries envy nations such as Viet Nam that have such a variety of ancestral, founding peoples.

The people of the Dong Son culture of 3,000 years ago, perhaps as much anyone, are the key founders of Viet Nam. By studying tribal people, one can speculate which people today are closest to these Bronze Age pioneers.

By studying tribal people, the role of the Naga becomes clearer than the introduced Dragon from China. And the strong links between the Cham and the Khmer reflect the two-fold introduction of Buddhism into Viet Nam - Mahayana along the silk Road into China and thence to Viet Nam; Theravada from monks following the southern tradition in southern ports in ancient Funan and Chenla.

In other words, the tribal people of Viet Nam can be seen as the ancestors of today's peoples. There is little in Vietnamese society that is not either reflected in or drawn from these people. It is so fascinating and a good reason to develop this aspect of the nation's heritage. Without it, there is even less for visitors to see and observe.

J.D. Kellas, Australian, Mount Gambier

It is important to maintain the visibility and viability of Viet Nam's ethnic groups. As an outsider, it is only in the regional areas that one can identify the local ethnic groups; either by their clothing and/or their housing.

In Ha Noi, one is not aware of the presence of the groups as they assume the local "western" clothing.

However, the Museum of Ethnology and the iSee photographic exhibition in Ly Thai To Park in April this year gave great insight into rural and ethnic living and was appreciated by our many friends who attended the opening ceremony of the exhibition. Local interest in the groups was always evident by the large crowds at the museum whenever we visited.

In the rural areas, we enjoyed meeting and staying with ethnic groups at Moc Chau, Son La and Sa Pa. Their diverse ancestral backgrounds, customs and belief systems differ widely, creating a deeper understanding of Viet Nam's history.

All people have a story to tell and all make valuable contributions to society. Viet Nam needs to continue its policy of involvement of the ethnic groups and not encourage total integration. One hopes that in 100 years, the ethnic groups can still be identified and culture observed.

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi

It is important to be aware of and know your personal history. Where your parents are from and how and why they do things is part of your individual cultural, linguistic and ethnic identity. Without this knowledge and understanding, you are lost.

At the same time, most city folks are far too busy chasing dreams, fame and fortune to take time to visit the 54 Vietnamese ethnic minorities. Loud, colourful shirts? Stand in line. Mountain farmers and singing fishermen who live in floating villages? Great, take a number.

I am all for multi-culturalism and Canada's official bilingualism policies, but I grew up in the big city of Montreal. My mum is Scottish, my dad is Canadian and I grew up in minority English status. I loved the parades and costumes (as a kid).

As a teen, I couldn't wait to get out. Join the army (or circus if necessary) and travel. Forge my own identity. Now I wear a Chinese kung-fu style shirt, eat sushi and drink latte while listening to Shakira singing in Spanish.

Viet Nam must strive to keep its many identities intact in the modern world.

Tran Ngoc Quyen, Vietnamese, Ha Noi

I think it's a pity that we don't teach our children much about appreciating the culture of ethnic groups in Viet Nam in schools. Besides the Museum of Ethnology that has done a good job in promoting such understanding among youngsters, there's hardly any encouragement or resources for young people in the cities to discover the fascinating cultures of Vietnamese ethnic groups.

Appreciating the cultures of ethnic groups isn't just about promoting tourism. It goes beyond that. It's about having the kind of policies that giving the residents in far-flung areas the same chances and opportunities as the rest.

I once met an American collector based in Ha Noi, who owns a gallery. He has spent many years collecting antiques and other items belonging to Viet Nam's ethnic groups. He gave regular talks on the issue. We should not leave the appreciation and preservation of our fascinating cultures to just the foreigners. — VNS

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