I met the Cong in July 2017 while travelling in the Lai Chau area. They had settled in Laos for centuries and more than 40,000 still live there today. A few thousand of them migrated to Vietnam and they now represent the eight smallest cultural group in the country. Like other groups, their villages were relocated. This change of habitat has caused a huge loss of cultural knowledge and heritage, to the point where their culture has almost disappeared and any information about them is extremely scarce.
Although they used to grow cotton, they never wove it. Instead they sold the raw material to neighbouring groups and bought finished products from them. They are, however, masters at wickerwork and make beautiful mats and baskets, which they carry on their heads with a head strap. The woman portrayed in the portrait, Ly Thi Thin, 80, owned the last Cong costume. It was a great honor that she entrusted it to me to represent her culture and to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect the Cong’s heritage. There are other villages that I couldn’t gain access to on this trip, but I have plans to go back and hopefully find better preserved elements of their story.