Breathing life into fading Muong culture

Vu Duc Hieu is known for his love of Muong ethnic minority’s traditional culture and set aside 5 hectares of his own land to promote it in a private museum, which saw him win at Jeonju International Awards for Promoting Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Le Huong spoke with him about his life-long endeavour.

Breathing life into fading Muong culture
WORK & PASSION: Painter Vu Duc Hieu crafting ceramics at the museum. VNS Photos Le Huong

How did you come to know about the Jeonju International Awards?

I knew of them through the network of museums in Vietnam.

The awards aim to recognise those who have devoted their energies to the universal values of humanity, transcending nation, ethnicity, religion, and gender.

Winning projects are viewed as models to be replicated elsewhere around the world.

I thought the awards were quite suitable with what I have been doing, so decided to put my name forward.

Can you tell us a little about your Muong Culture Space Museum?

It opened in December 2007 after ten years of gathering together objects and materials for display. It is now divided into three different exhibiting areas on 5ha of rolling hills in the northern province of Hoa Binh - a cradle of the Muong ethnic group.

The first area focuses on the living space of Muong society and its classes in ancient times, as well as stilt-houses of the King (nhà Lang), houses of mandarins (nhà âu), houses of ordinary people (nhà noóc), and houses of the poor (nhà noóc trọi).

It also showcases the group’s festivals and folk games.

The second exhibiting area features things like fishing, traditional weaving, and the spiritual lives of the group.

The third displays paintings and ceramics from contemporary artists who created their works in the lands of the Muong and were inspired by the local culture.

My family also lives at the museum. 

How many visitors do you welcome each month?

We are open every day except Monday, and welcome more than 10,000 people a year.

 

Have you had any difficulties running a private museum? How do you get over the obstacles?

Mine is one of 30 private museums in Vietnam, and there are about 100 public museums all around the country. The Government covers everything at public museums, like land, infrastructure, and the cost of collecting and preserving the objects on display, salaries for the staff, and other general operating expenses.

We private museums, however, have to manage everything ourselves, which is the biggest challenge. Few museums around the world can raise enough money from selling tickets to stage frequent activities or make investments.

We have done what we can by whatever means we can find. We have offered tourism services at the museum, such as teaching culture and heritage to school students. But the earnings from this are nowhere near enough to run the museum.

How did you come up with the idea of opening the museum? Why the Muong culture?

I travelled to different parts of the country when I was a student. On these trips I saw ancient cultures being eroded by industrialisation and modernisation. Many objects of ancient cultures were broken or destroyed, yet each has its own interesting story to tell.

I also collected objects along the way and came to discover their cultural values. I bought this land in Hoa Binh Province in the hope of passing on the cultural values of the group to the younger generation.

The Muong are an important root of the ancient Vietnamese people, and based mostly in Hoa Binh. Its population currently accounts for 7 per cent of the province’s total, and there are 1 million Muong people around Vietnam.

I want to share my passion for Muong culture with the community and hope that people respect it and help preserve it, as it has been fading away. That’s why I built the museum.

Breathing life into fading Muong culture
RE-CREATED: Hieu in the Nha Lang (a house of a Muong King) he rebuilt in the museum, after the first burned down accidentally in 2013.

Are you happy with what you have today?

Not totally, because I still have many ideas and tasks to pursue. I’m fairly contented, though, with running the museum, as I’ve received great support from culture lovers as well as patriots, which I think proves that my approach to preserving and developing traditional Muong culture is on the right track.

What are your future plans for the museum?

I will continue to promote ethnic Muong culture to the world, by organising exhibitions or hosting artistic workshops at the museum, so that international friends can come and find out more. VNS

Significance of international awards for promoting intangible cultural heritage

Significance of international awards for promoting intangible cultural heritage

Vu Duc Hieu, director of the Muong Cultural Space Museum, has won the 2020 Jeonju International Awards for Promoting Intangible Cultural Heritage (JIAPICH), which is expected to be presented in an online form on September 15.

Muong Ethnic Culture Museum

Muong Ethnic Culture Museum

About 70 kilometers north of Hanoi stands the Muong Ethnic Group Cultural Space Museum, the first private museum in Hoa Binh Province, and the only museum in Vietnam devoted to Muong culture.

 
 

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