|Great bangers: Gong music forms an indispensable part of Muong festivals. — VNA/VNS Photo
by Nhan Sinh and Trung Hieu
The northern province of Hoa Binh is often referred to as the cradle of Muong ethnic culture. As a result, there are many collectors of antiques from the ancient Muong people in the region, but Bui Thanh Binh stands head and shoulders above the rest thanks to his vast and unique collection of historical artefacts of Muong lords (Quan lang).
The Quan lang were hereditary mandarins and lords of the Muong people. They were very powerful rulers and remained in place through this administrative system until just before the August Revolution in 1945.
Passing a large slope at the back of the Cham Market and walking towards a hill, we arrived at Bui Thanh Binh's residence in Thai Binh Ward of Hoa Binh City.
On his 4,000sq.m plot of land, Binh has built four large houses on stilts to exhibit nearly 4,000 artefacts that he has found and preserved over the last 30 years.
Anyone who visits his exhibition of artefacts, even local Muong elders or experts in the field, staggered by the all-encompassing Muong culture museum.
From the small pieces, such as the baskets to keep supplies and trap fish, right through to the luxury possessions, all items are cherished and respected by Binh.
Viewers feel transported into the world of the ancient Muong people.
Binh tells us he was born in the land of Muong Dong (Kim Boi District today), one of the four major Muong regions. The others, Muong Bi, Muong Vang, Muong Thang help make up the foundations of the Muong people's existence in Hoa Binh.
In their language, a muong is a community that is made up of between three and 30 villages. Each muong worships a local god, while ancestor worshipping is practised within families.
"For me, all the items and heirlooms of Muong families are like our flesh and blood, which I find myself responsible for preserving," he says.
|Classy crafts: Muong women are famous for their brocade weaving handicraft. — VNA/VNS Photo
Bound by a sense of duty, Binh has spent a lot of time studying and collecting items formerly owned by Muong people and their lords.
Binh explains this was also inspired by his former job, when he worked as a tour guide for the Ha Son Binh Tourism Company (now Hoa Binh Travel Agency) leading visitors to ethnic villages.
As he led visitors to many remote and isolated regions, Binh gained many opportunities to continue collecting artefacts.
"I thought that if I do not keep these pieces of heritage, future generations would not know about the values of our Muong ethnic culture," he says.
Binh has retrieved many items that people had thrown away as old junk, and purchased special gongs that villagers wanted to sell.
Gradually, he devoted all his time and money to his trips through the jungle and over mountains to collect precious Muong relics.
Binh said the most notable things were the ancient gongs and many home utensils of the Muong lords.
He is particularly proud of his vast gong collection, featuring different sizes and varieties.
Binh not only collects gongs but also understands gong music and is able to perform many pieces created by his ancestors.
|Safe hands: Bui Thanh Binh is an expert in the collection and preservation of Muong lords' antiquities. — VNA/VNS Photo Nhan Sinh
Eager to preserve his rich treasure of artefacts and spurred on by his passion and dedication to Muong culture, Binh is completing procedures to ask the provincial People's Committee permission to set up a conservation centre for Muong cultural heritage.
Le Quoc Khanh, deputy director of Hoa Binh Museum, said: "We are extremely supportive of his idea to establish a conservation centre to promote the cultural heritage of the Muong.
"If the project is successful and work begins soon, this will be a really special exhibition spotlighting rare artefacts, especially those owned by the Muong lords." — VNS
An ethnic group enriched by history
The Muong, also called Mol (or Mon, Moan, Mual), are of the same origin as the Viet people. While the ancient Viet developed towards the lowland regions and the sea, the ancient Muong laid roots in the mountains.
They are long-time inhabitants of the northern provinces of Hoa Binh, Phu Tho and Thanh Hoa and their tongue belongs to the Viet-Muong group of the Austroasiatic language family.
The Muong's most important crop is wet rice and they are vastly experienced in constructing small irrigation systems.
Currently, there are more than 1.13 million Muong living across the aforementioned provinces in northern Viet Nam.
Hoa Binh is home to more than 506,000 Muong, accounting for 63 per cent of the provincial population.