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‘Prodigal son' returns to enrich community

Update: March, 02/2015 - 21:10
Fan following: The Kate festival, celebrated by the Cham people in Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan Province, prays to the Po Sah Inu Goddess. — VNA/VNS Photos Manh Linh

Ka So Lieng, who has collected and translated epics of the ethnic minority communities in the Central Highlands, has returned home and is offering his people more than cultural preservation, The Khoa and Trung Hieu report.

In 2000, Ka So Lieng put up a hut in the grass hills of Ea Cha Rang Commune in Son Hoa District of Phu Yen Province.

A famous folklore expert of the south central region and Tay Nguyen (the Central Highlands), Lieng had retired a little more than two years earlier.

"I lived far away from home and the ethnic groups of Cham Hroi, Ba Na and E De for 45 years. Now it was the time for me to return, to bring what I have learned to help my people," he said.

And what he has done for the country and for its culture in the past 15 years should be recorded.

The first thing that Lieng, belonging to the Cham Hroi group, told his friends on his return is that he was back to enrich his community.

He said that their land is good, but the people did not know how to do farming. He decided to set an example by teaching them how to get rich from their land.

The veteran director, who graduated from the College of Theatre and Cinema in Ha Noi, has made it come true.

When he returned home, with his scientific knowledge, Lieng worked hard to plant trees and turn 4ha of arid land into a farm that is green during all four seasons.

Now, besides the two-story house, there is a garden with hundreds of beehives, an immense forest with more than 2,000 acacia trees, 1,000 cashew trees and different kinds of fruit trees, besides a fish pond and a large aquarium.

Lieng became the owner of a farm worth billions of dong.

The results of his labour actually set a good example for the ethnic people in the region.

Learning from this farming model and with Lieng's help and guidance, the Cham and other ethnic people in Ea Cha Rang and many other communes in Son Hoa diverted water from streams up to the hills, to turn the wild soil into fields that can grow two rice crops a year, dug ponds for aquaculture, set up cages to rear chicken and pigs and planted crops.

Under Lieng's guidance, many households increased economic production, and saved enough money to buy television sets, motorcycles and modern living facilities.

Local people said that when Lieng came to live here, they already knew him as a culturist who had written several books, sang khan (the epics) very well and often taught youngsters folk songs. But no one knew that he was also good at doing business and would help them change their lives.

Pointers: Culturist Ka So Lieng teaches Cham Hroi script to local students.

Not only was he successful in leading people out of poverty, Lieng also gave them something very precious: their own script.

From the time he studied the epics of the ethnic groups in the Central Highlands and during the days he spent living with the Cham, Lieng understood the disadvantage of a people who didn't have a script of their own.

In the Cham community, the Cham Ba Ni in Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces and the Cham in South Viet Nam have scripts, but more than 30,000 Cham Hroi people in Phu Yen and Binh Dinh didn't have any.

While collecting the first epics of the Cham Hroi, Lieng had to use the scripts of the E De to record them. So from the 1990s, he began hunting for scripts for his people.

After his retirement, Lieng devoted himself to research, exchange, learn and co-operate with language researchers. Finally in the middle of 2010, he created the Cham Hroi script as a combination of some E De with the Roman alphabet.

First, he tried to teach the script to the people in Ea Cha Rang. They learned very quickly, and were able to write simple sentences in a little more than 10 days.

In late 2010, the Radio and Television of Phu Yen began broadcasting a Cham Hroi programme twice a week, with Lieng as its editor-cum-broadcaster.

Then he trained two broadcasters to undertake this work.

In early 2011, Lieng sent the Cham Hroi script that he had created to the Viet Nam Institute of Linguistics for evaluation and recognition.

The Ethnic Culture Publisher used these scripts to print in Vietnamese - Cham Hroi languages the works that Lieng had collected and compiled, such as Kho tang su thi Tay Nguyen - su thi Cham Hroi: Chi Bri - Chi Brit (the Epic Treasures of Central Highlands and Cham Hroi: Chi Bri - Chi Brit), and Gong Sounds of Hbialo Dak.

The Cham Hroi in Phu Yen and Binh Dinh provinces were very excited and told the community members to learn the script, and it began to be used in daily life rapidly.

Lieng was very happy.

"With the script, the Cham Hroi culture will be passed on through these books. I don't expect anything more. This is the most meaningful work I've done for my people," he said.

Since the days he was deputy director of the Department of Culture and Information of Phu Yen, he has been passionate about collecting and compiling Tay Nguyen epics.

But till his retirement, he had to focus on this beloved work under certain conditions.

So far, he has published more than 7,000 pages of dozens of epics of the Cham Hroi and other Highlands people.

Prof Phan Dang Nhat, chief of the State-level scientific project to study the epics of the Central Highlands and editor of Tong tap Truong ca Tay Nguyen (The Central Highlands General Collection of Epics), said that Ka So Lieng has set a record for collecting and compiling the epics of the Central Highlands.

"It is worth noting that most of his collection and compilation of the epics of the Central Highlands people were made possible due to his love and responsibility for his forefathers' culture," Nhat said.

Since 1995, Lieng has received nearly 20 awards of the Viet Nam Folklore Association, and the Literature and Art Association of Ethnic Minorities of Viet Nam and Phu Yen Province for his work and research.

This year, Lieng turned 80 (he was born in 1936). It is due to his hard labour every day probably that he is still very healthy.

"If I can live some more years, I will focus all my energy and time on making this place beautiful. Before I go, I will donate all 4ha of the farm to Ea Cha Rang Commune to build a library and a nursery school," he said. — VNS

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