Saving Tay Nguyen Epics

Viet Nam News (Hanoi, Vietnam), January 15, 2006


The people of Tay Nguyen have been reciting epic narratives for generations, but as oral storytelling starts to die out with the village elders, this ancient tradition is slowly starting to dissappear.

A VND17 billion (US$1 million) State-funded project is being undertaken by the Folklore Study Institute to collect, record and publish the narratives of ethnic minority groups in Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) before the stories disappear along with an ageing generation of storytellers.

The people of Tay Nguyen have many ancient epic narratives, most of them recalling heroes who fought off invaders or struggled with their gods of nature. For time immemorial, people have gathered in their communities to listen to the stories being recited and acted out.

But it is the tradition of oral storytelling itself that is leading to the gradual disappearance of these invaluable cultural artefacts. Many indigenous groups did not have written scripts to correspond to their languages, while other vernacular scripts have disappeared over the years. Without written records, ancient cultural heritage in this region has survived only in the minds of village elders, handed down through the generations in the oral tradition, a fragile and vulnerable way of preserving ancient wisdom.

Dieu Kau, 70, teaches the Mnong language and is compiling Ot N’drong, the Mnong people’s epics. He is the only living person who can transcribe the Ot Ndrong from recorded cassette tapes to Mnong and Vietnamese scripts.

“A short Mnong epic can be transcribed in 1,000 pages, while longer ones may take tens of thousands of pages,” he says.

Dr. Vo Quang Trong, deputy head of the Folklore Study Institute, says the institute has already trained 12 Tay Nguyen locals as folklorists. “They will help preserve their own cultural heritage. We can only hope following generations will continue to complete the work we have begun.”

Subjects Covered: diversity training, education

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