THE CO TU
For centuries, the Co Tu wore costumes made out of tree bark. They used five types of trees for their solid fiber. After removing the fresh bark, it was rigorously beaten to make it firmer, then soaked in a pungent mixture of water and spices for about ten days, both to give it an aromatic fragrance and to protect it from insects. The final step was to let it dry for a month.
In March 2017, Briu Liec, representative of 94 Co Tu villages in Quang Nam province came to my museum. After his visit, he admitted being “stunned that a foreigner is willing to preserve the heritage of Vietnam’s ethnic groups”and very proud to have his culture represented at the museum. That day, he offered me a bark costume, but it was only the following week, when I visited the Co Tu highlands in Tay Giang district, that I found out that he had given me the last one available, making it a priceless piece of the museum. Clau Nam, who posed in it, is 87 years old and the last person able to produce it, a knowledge passed on by his own father.