La Hu trade in nomadic lifestyle for modern homes

Update: February, 09/2014 - 06:32

Permanent home: Border guards of Lai Chau Province help La Hu ethnic people build houses in their new settlement village in Muong Te District. — VNA/VNS Photo

by Kim Giao

Gone are the days when the La Hu ethnic group lived in caves or thatched huts covered in foliage from the forest. In the past, once these leaves turned yellow, the nomads would move on, travelling wherever the search for a livelihood would take them. Today, these people are reaping the benefits of stability, having moved into more permanent structures: wooden houses with corrugated iron roofs.

"My family and I used to live in a small cave. When it rained, we had to cover the mouth of the cave with leaves to prevent the rainwater from entering. It was extremely dark inside, and my children would cry bitterly all night long," Po Ga Xi, a villager, recalled.

His is one of many households in La Si Village of Muong Te District in the north-west province of Lai Chau to have been given new houses by provincial border soldiers.

"I enjoy living in this house. When it rains, I need only close the door, and it is no longer dark inside," he said.

His enthusiasm is shared by other villagers who are equally grateful to the Lai Chau border soldiers who built new houses for them.

According to Ka Lang communal party committee secretary Ly Cong Hoa, La Si Village is undergoing a makeover. In the near future, villagers will no longer live in thatched huts.

"We're very grateful to the Party and the Lai Chau border guards who helped us so much," Hoa stated.

A few years ago, hunger was all that the people of Ka Lang Commune experienced. The problem lingered from one year to the next, becoming so entrenched that the people could no longer remember what it was like to have enough food to eat and clothes to wear. At the time, no one could escape a life of deprivation and misery. People seldom saw rice plants, relying solely on maize to survive.

Various factors have contributed to the prevalence of starvation and poverty in the commune. These include the limited cultural standards of the people, backward farming habits based on slash-and-burn cultivation and hunting methods, and challenging traffic conditions.

According to Ka Lang Commune People's Committee Chairman Ly Tu Chong, the monsoon season and subsequent floods frequently isolated the commune from neigbouring areas. The worst-hit villages are located in the northern part of the commune, forcing the people to move across the mountain and hillsides during the monsoon. Most of these villages are populated by the La Hu, who have no alternative but to rely on Nature as they travel across the land to earn a livelihood.

The commune is home to several hundred households of the La Hu and Ha Nhi ethnic groups, who are spread across nearly 20 villages therein. Of these people, the La Hu population is below 1,500. Low population numbers and poor economic conditions have threatened the survival of this ethnic group. To help them avoid being wiped out, the Government has prioritised bringing stability to their lives.

"The La Hu people were accustomed to living in remote areas, so it was very difficult to communicate with them," said the chairman. "They had been living on the peaks of tall mountains from generation to generation and only moved to other places when the land became infertile."

In Pa Pu and Ta Ba villages, where old, worn thatched huts built with tree trunks and covered with leaves dot the landscape, many La Hu families still remain.

Pointing to a hut on the verge of collapse, featuring a bed made of four pieces of bamboo that are buried loosely in the earth, the chairman noted, "That is the most valuable property in the village. It belongs to Po Ga Ca. His family has moved into a new house located too far away to carry this one."

Modernisation arrives

Life in La Si Village started to change when the soldiers of Border Post 311 coordinated with local authorities to help the La Hu people get permanently resettled, offering them a new lifestyle and helping them to develop their economy.

Head of Border Post 311 Lieutenant-Colonel Hua Duc Aùnh said the La Hu people do not like to talk about their history of deprivation. Instead, they want to show visitors their new corrugated-iron-roofed houses fitted with television antennas.

"Preserving the La Hu people's identity and helping them reduce poverty is part of our duty in building up and defending the Lai Chau border area," said Anh.

The Lai Chau border soldiers believe in getting things done, backing up their promises with action. This attitude was apparent when they provided advice to local authorities in surveying locations for the establishment of La Si Village. In addition, they played a role as pioneers, demonstrating critical activities for the people to observe and follow. In this way, the soldiers and the people worked together to turn La Si Village, once covered in bushes and lacking roads, into a busy and welcoming area.

"We do not press them but let them observe us doing the work. Many people were filled with doubt at first, but they eventually convinced others to follow us after witnessing the efficient results," Aùnh added.

New lease on life

Lai Chau border soldiers have provided over 20 new houses to the La Si group in the past three months. Homeless people have been given priority to receive these houses. The soldiers have also completed constructing an 8-kilometre-long road and a 1,500-metre-long irrigation canal to water four hectares of rice fields. The local people have also been taught to grow high-yield rice seeds and to raise livestock.

To help the children learn to read and write, the border soldiers have started opening classes that can accommodate 50 children. In addition, they have built two kindergartens in Nhom Po and Pa Pu villages. Soldiers have also sponsored four pupils, two of whom belong to the La Hu ethnic group.

"I do not know how to read or write and may not have been able to go to school if the border soldiers didn't help me," said one child, Chu Gio Pa. — VNS