Viet Nam News
HÀ TĨNH — A young woman for the first time has been elected village chief of a Chứt ethnic minority group, the highest honour in their society, in central Hà Tĩnh Province’s Hương Liên Commune.
She is now attempting to eradicate backward customs such as cousin marriage and improve reproductive health for local women.
At the age of 28, Hồ Thị Kiên never thought she would become the village leader.
According to the Chứt ethnic minorities’ customs, the village chief must be an old experienced man who was proficient in hunting and gathering and respected by villagers. If the chief becomes too unhealthy to lead the villagers, he appoints another elder in his family.
Things changed when villagers decided to alter how they chose their leader in 2015. Thanks to support from Liên Commune’s People’s Committee and the provincial border soldiers in Rào Tre Village, the villagers held an election for the position.
Kiên was among few people in the village who attended school. She was talented and had the respect of villagers, leading to her victory in the voting.
In her first days in her new position, Kiên told the Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper that she felt resistance when trying to change the old habits of local people.
Chứt people used to live in the forest in Hương Khê District until border guards helped them settle down in Rào Tre Village in 2001. Currently, more than 40 Chứt ethnic minority households are living across nearly 400 hectares in the village.
However, Chứt people continued to marry with their relatives or give birth in the forest to protect their customs.
Kiên said many people disagreed with eradicating the old habits. They also doubted new rice–planting and cattle-raising techniques. They were furious when she encouraged women to give birth at hospitals and asked ill people to get treated at hospitals.
Kiên was said to have betrayed the village’s traditional customs. She was even asked to resign.
“People thought that all the diseases were caused by the forest ghost, and they hired a man who they called ‘master’ to help them take the ghost away and save ill people”, she said.
Previously, village chiefs hired the master in July as a way of wishing a peaceful year for the villagers.
Kiên said she was upset by the deaths of new-born babies who suffered from weak health due to cousin marriage, or the deaths of both mother and baby due to severe infection when giving birth in the forest.
There was only one way Kiên could win her people over: farming.
Kiên, together with the support of a village-based team, focused on agricultural production. By applying cultivating and raising techniques, she had bumper crops, bigger and healthier chickens and pigs.
She introduced new techniques to local people, and went to every house in the village to wake people up to work in the fields. Now, local living conditions are remarkably improved and Kiên is in charge of taking ill people and pregnant women to hospitals for proper treatment.
What the young village chief most wants to change is the custom of cousin marriage.
Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Văn Sâm, Chief of border soldiers of Bản Giàng said that it was difficult to explain the impacts of cousin marriage to local people.
Therefore, the village-based team was set up to as a matchmaker service for young people between Chứt minorities and the Kinh and Rục ethnicities.
Kiên said more activities should be done to increase the exchange between Chứt people and other people.
“I hope that I could do more to gradually change the mindset of the villagers,” she said. — VNS