Ethnology Museum helps to preserve cultural heritage

New museum aims to understand the link between Viet Nam and the Southeast Asia

Published on 8 April 2011

Author(s): VietNam News/Minh Thu

Type:  News

People come to the museum to learn about the cultural diversity and traditional values of each of the country's unique ethnic groups

The Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology was established in Ha Noi in 1987 to preserve the cultural heritage of the nation's 54 ethnic groups. The facility is both a research centre and a public museum with a mission to collect, document, perserve and exhibit the cultural heritage of these different groups. The museum has both indoor and outdoor exhibitions. The indoor exhibitions are housed in a two-storey building with architecture inspired by an ancient bronze drum. It includes exhibition space, a research centre, a library, a laboratory and an auditorium, as well as storage facilities

The museum collection includes thousands of artefacts, photographs, and audio and video documentation of Vietnamese ethnic groups. Dioramas highlight certain customs or cultural features of specific groups. Objects are labelled in English and French for international visitors, who are able to learn about the displays without a guide.

The objects displayed in the museum reflect the everyday lives of the people, and the museum's consistent point-of-view is that the displays are simple, allowing visitors to admire the beauty and finesse of these ordinary and simple items, including knives, baskets, garments, mats and musical instruments. Photographs and video installations are further used to illustrate the items in the context of people's lives.

The museum has 54 collections dedicated to each individual ethnic group. The artefacts are further classified functionally into collections of clothing, jewelry, agricultural and fishing implements, household utensils, and musical instruments, and weaponry. There are also collections of artefacts related to various religious beliefs and ceremonies, and the museum has published a number of books and catalogues to reflect these different interests.

People come to the museum not only to learn about the cultural diversity and traditional values of each of the country's unique ethnic groups, but also to relax and be entertained. With fun activities and regular performances of water puppetry or ca tru (ceremonial singing), the museum is a great place for children.

Ngo Hoai Nam from Ha Noi says he often brings his kids to the museum on weekends and holidays. "It is not just a museum to store old things," Nam said. "When we come here, my children can learn about traditional culture, make traditional toys, and play folk games like clay banger, tug-of-war and leapfrog which are not easy to find in other places."

Visitors may bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the grass by a small stream, or eat at the museum restaurant before relaxing outdoors. The outdoor exhibition area focuses on the different types of traditional houses around the country, including an E De long house, Tay and Dao stilt-houses, a wooden Hmong house, and a traditional tile-roofed Vietnamese house, as well as a Gia Rai tomb. A Ba Na communal house and Cham and Ha Nhi houses are the latest additions.

Beside the houses are trees indigenous to the area of each house, all linked by zigzagging paths and a meandering stream crossed by small bridges. A tourist from the US city of Boston, who doesn't show his name, visits the museum with a two-year-old child and says, "The historic houses are incredibly varied and interesting, although climbing up and down those teeny ladders is not for the faint of heart or poor of balance."

After catching a water puppetry performance on a Sunday afternoon, he said, "I would rate this an absolute must-see for families with young children. Highly recommended." The Museum of Ethnology is located at Nguyen Van Huyen Street, Cau Giay District, about 8km from Ha Noi's centre. It opens everyday except Mondays from 8.30am to 17.30pm. In the future, the museum will expand its mission to the cultures and civilisations of other neighbouring countries Southeast Asia, all to be displayed in a new building built in the shape of a kite.

Construction of the "Kite" building of Southeast Asian cultures began since 2007, according to Vo Quang Trong, the museum's director. On its three floors, there will be space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, object conservation and restoration, educational activities, conferences, and multimedia to introduce Southeast Asian cultures, he says.

"The new museum aims to help the visitors understand the link between Viet Nam and the Southeast Asia in a regional culture of unity and diversity," Trong says, "it also shows the responsibility of Viet Nam, an ASEAN member, in disseminating and preserving regional identity." Every year the museum receives hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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