In Part 1, I left you inside the circular entrance without mentioning the focus, which, for lack of a better word, looks like a decorative totem pole. However, it’s much fancier and sports a tail at the top that hangs back down with a half-square motif at its end. See the photo please.
Upstairs includes an exhibit of Tai textiles, which is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation: I can’t stress enough how proud I felt that we made a contribution to this magnificent place. The exhibition attempts to chronicle the importance of the skillful techniques employed by Tai women (Laos, Vietnam, China, and Thailand) in textile design and application and the role it plays in maintaining tradition while exploring modernity at the same time. An explosion of color several feet high of paper banners, animal, and toy shapes, pierced paper, and decorative objects will greet you as you enter. For sanity’s sake, try to follow an orderly path, lest you lose your wits, as I almost did. Your eyes will want to devour everything as your mind unconsciously clicks away at the lifelike displays that surround you. If you don’t make it to Sapa, this museum is a fabulous consolation prize until the next time.
You can start with the "Brocade Art" segment, where clear details are given on the art and technique of the weave. Stunning garb brings to life the wooden mannequins with gold ringlets, red tassels, and harmonious blends of color. Continue on to the Pathen people, whose specialty is agriculture, wooden utensils, basketry, and metalwork. The decorative motifs of women’s clothing are particularly unique, as they use lots of reds, favored as good luck by the Chinese.
By contrast, the Tibeto-Burmese women, La Hu, Lai Chau , wear a great variety of colors and signal their social status via a black headdress and a chignon piled on top of the head. The Khmer groups in the North share similarities with the Lanna of Thailand, having long lived together in the same regions. They inhabit stilt houses, cultivate rice, and raise livestock and fish. They use advanced techniques for basketry. Finally, the Hoa are most populous (numbering almost a million) around Saigon and descend directly from the Chinese. With them, they bring the art of calligraphy, papermaking, lacquered woods, pottery, and incense production.
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Bayside, New York
May 1, 2005
From journal Chao Ban Vietnam!!
The Museum was dedicated in 1997 by French President Jacques Chirac as a testament to the ethnic tribes and their lifestyles and habitats. The building itself is constructed as a two-storied, semi-circular structure, prefaced by a huge marble-floor lobby bearing a plaque of the dedication, as well as several wall tapestries reflecting the art of the different cultures. I found the upstairs portion absolutely mesmerizing and couldn’t tear myself away from the descriptive plaques (in English and French) that accompanied each and every display. If you want some order in your visit, start downstairs, and from the lobby, head to your left, where you will get an introduction. We never do anything in an orderly manner, but it has always paid off.
We started our journey outside, walking alongside a replica of a boat from Thanh Hoa Province that was used to transport people and goods across the Ma River. We first visited a Cham dwelling, which consists of five buildings, the most important, the Thang Lam, being where the family’s most precious valuables are held. Simple and colorful straw mats with pillows make up a bed, and there is usually a hold for the various pottery, cooking vessels, brooms - much like a pantry closet. Construction materials include mud, bamboo, straw, tapa, akuh, and barmuth. The model is 100 years old.
Much time is spent in the next exhibit, which is called the Long House (see photo below); getting up there is half the fun, as we have to climb an unusual wooden ladder, since the house floor is about 1m off the ground. Historically, some houses reached 200m in length, and size equated wealth. Matrilineal in nature, the Long House accommodated the families of the daughters and granddaughters who descended from the same mother. Whereas dozens of families would share the dwelling, chores, and food, the eldest woman managed the property. What disturbed me most were the two separate entrances, the rear reserved for the women.
It was not likely to imagine that the next construction was actually a burial place; prominent wooden carvings of sexually explicit men and pregnant women surround the high wall that surrounds the building. Other more commonplace carvings of animals, together with dishes, bottles, and tools, would ensure that the deceased was well provided for in the afterlife. It had an Egyptian pharaoh footprint to it somehow. The tomb came from the Mrong Ngo village in Gia Lia Province.