THE XO DANG
I met A Dip, 76, in 2017, around 50 kilometres from Kon Tum in the mountains. He belongs to the To Dra ethnic group which is, according to the experts, a subgroup of the Xo Dang ethnic group, even though their traditions and dialect are different, as stated by the To Dra. It’s the first time that I came across this traditional costume. A Dip politely declined to entrust me with it because he’s catholic and wears it every Sunday to go to mass. The costume displayed in the museum comes from another village and differs from the richly coloured ones that the Xo Dang people now buy from the Bahnar people and sometimes wear during festivals. In many old missionary textbooks about the ethnic groups in Vietnam, it is written that the Xo Dang don’t make their own costumes and never had a textile tradition. However, while speaking to some Xo Dang elders, I was told that at least one village used to make cotton fabrics and that they still have some of the cotton. This experience showed me that it is important to carefully interpret information gained from books and combine it with personal research. In addition, traditions can vary from village to village even within the same ethnic group.
Meeting A Dip was one of my most memorable experiences from the last few years. As part of the Giving Back Project, I returned to see him in 2018 to give him a book in which his photo appears and to contribute financially to his everyday life. It’s during this new encounter that I discovered his many talents: he’s the only artisan in the village who still makes the traditional bamboo basket and the last one to play the traditional instruments of the To Dra people. I returned again in 2020 and we enjoyed lunch together while he brought me up to date on the news in his village.