The Many Houses of Vietnam

We got away from Hanoi’s busy city center this morning, taking a taxi to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.  This museum gives visitors a look at the 54 ethnic groups that make up Vietnam, from the hill tribes to the Austroasians of the south.  Visitors learn about tribes’ family structures, religions, handicrafts, clothing, and rituals.  We saw a huge number of woven goods — from baskets to brocade, the women of Vietnam seemed to have been weaving all the time.

There was a lot to see, but I especially appreciated the outfits on display:

They also had a few dioramas of women weaving, such as this one:

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And a “discovery room” where Prescott and I got to play traditional drums:

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We also got to see authentic water puppets up close:

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And I had my first — and probably last — ever viewing of a straw monkey scarecrow:

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But the highlight of the museum has to be the houses — actual, life-sized houses from different areas around Vietnam, all either built or re-created here.  You can walk around them, walk into them, and sit on the floor (often made of pounded bamboo shoots) as you watch videos that show you exactly how the house was put together.  This could have been called the “museum of home architecture and construction.”  We both enjoyed it thoroughly.

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They also had a couple of “tomb houses.”  I liked this one for its water buffalos and other animal imagery:

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Then there’s this tomb house, which looks pretty innocuous when you approach it:

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But as you get closer, you realize that the idea of fertility and death are closely intertwined as far as this tribe is concerned …

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We made more than a few Donald Trump jokes at this section…

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The outdoor area also had bamboo pole slack-lines (I’m not sure what else to call them), where you could test your ability to walk on bamboo poles over raging rivers.  Pres and I demonstrated pretty clearly that we would both fall in and be swept away by the waters (but we had fun balancing for about four or five steps before that happened).

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We ended our tour at the adjacent Southeast Asia Museum.  I would say that we’d had our fill of baskets and hats and masks and clothes by that point, because we made our way through the displays pretty quickly.  I did spend a while with the Indonesian shadow puppets, because my grandmother used to own one or two of them and I always thought they were beautiful.

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