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Brau ethnic group preserves dwindling culture

The Brau have led a nomadic life for generations. They use slash- and-burn techniques to grow rice, maize and cassava with simple production tools like axes, knives and seeding sticks, which result in low yields. They live in traditional stilt houses.

This ethnic group’s population adopted the habit of having their faces and bodies tattooed and their teeth ground short. Women wear jewellery laces on their hands, necks and legs with big earrings made of ivory or bamboo joints. Brau men wear loincloths and women wear skirts. Both sexes are normally bare-chested.

Young Brau people are free to choose their intended spouse and the groom's family has to present certain offerings to the bride's family. The wedding ceremony takes place in the bride's home and the husband has to stay in his wife's house for two to three years before the couple move to the man's home.

Regard funerals, the deceased is brought out of the house and put into a thin coffin and placed in a separate house erected by local villagers. Villagers come over to express sympathy and sorrow, and beat gongs for days before the burial service. Belongings of the deceased such as axes, knives, and dossers are left in the funeral house.

The Brau are fond of playing gongs and other traditional musical instruments. The gongs and cymbals fall into different categories. A set of cymbals may include two items, but they are highly valuable and can be exchanged for up to 50 buffaloes. Brau women often play the Klongput, a musical instrument comprising five to seven bamboo pipes of different lengths tied together. The player claps her hands in front of these pipes to create different pitches and notes of sound. When lulling a child or attending a wedding ceremony, the Brau often hum certain folk tunes. Children and youth are fond of flying kites, walking on stilts and playing several other games.

Backward customs, swiden farming and several other practices prevent this group from developing. The group is the smallest in Vietnam with a slow population growth from 180 to 230 so far. Now with support and assistance from the government and local authorities to improve their material and spiritual lives, especially knowledge about marriage and family practices, young Brau people no longer marry those of the same bloodline as was their old custom.

Local authorities also help the Brau preserve their traditional cultural features. The Culture and Information Section has helped develop a repertoire of gongs and cymbals of the Brau to take part in provincial art performances. Their performances have recently won them a high prize at the Central Highlands Cultural Festival. Local Brau children also receive sports equipment for their recreational activities during the summer vacation.

VOV - (12/09/2005)

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