When previously isolated ethnic villages get absorbed by urban sprawl, the westernised way of living takes over the ancestral local traditions. I thought this was the case when I met the Ma for the first time in 2014 and couldn’t find any village with a traditional Ma garment. But in May 2017, I came across a local woman in her forties who was eager to help me discover her culture and more genuine villages. She asked me to photograph our meeting, and proof of the omnipresence of the modern world even in isolated locations, she told me to send the picture via Facebook, which she checks on her weekly visit to town. She took me to a remote village where I met K’Mang, a beaming woman with limitless energy and a brilliant sense of humour. “Take care of yourself for the next few years”, I said when I left. She responded with a laugh that she would wait for me to come back to die. A few hours earlier, she had handed me her birth certificate revealing her venerable 103 years!
The white Ma costume has been replaced with a black version with bright details, but there are almost none left. The parents, in awareness of the decline of their traditions, teach their culture and language to their children.