The “New” mountainous countryside

  •  Another perspective of “New countryside” is presented to those visiting Ka Dong people in Đăk Sao village, Đăk Rinh commune, Kon Plông district, Kon Tum province
    In the “era of countryside renovation” in the lowland area, where the criteria of new countryside at communal, district and provincial levels is often stated, Đăk Sao village has become a special symbol of the “renovation of mountainous countryside”.
    Picture 1: It takes us more than a half day walking to reach Đăk Sao village, Đăk Rinh commune, Kon Plong district, Kon Tum province. Photo: Nguyễn Văn Sự/CIRUM
    Remote, but not backward

    The village of Dak Sao is impressively known for its remoteness while still maintains the voluntary co-management of forestland between the local community and Thạch Nham Management Board for Protection Forest (MBPF).

    The remoteness of the village is not only seen by a long road from Hanoi to Đăk Rinh commune, but also by the distance from Đăk Rinh communal center to the Đăk Sao village. It may take you a half day walking up the sloping mountains on foot only. The chairman of the Commune, Mr. Phan Văn Mậu reveals: “Each commune here can be as large as a lowland district. However, the population is very scattered. During the historical flood in 2009, Đăk Sao was isolated for a month.”

    Despite its remoteness, the living space of Đăk Sao village indicates its civilization and sustainability. Đăk Sao keeps its primary forests around the village while the integrated rice terraces locate along the streams. There is a sacred forest at the end of the village where villagers’ worshipping rituals are held. Each household has a fish pond connected to the water sources from the forest.

    Rông house (the long community house, a cultural symbol of Central Highland) is located at the center of the village, while Villagers’ houses and cattle stables are arranged orderly surrounding, creating a picturesque landscape for the cultural, ecological and economic space of the 34 Ka Dong ethnic households.

    The beauty of Đăk Sao village can also be seen by the fact that all villagers enjoy their sufficient food and other self-subsistent forest products.

    From 12 hectares of one-crop rice paddle field, 34 households can produce enough food for an entire year. Elder A Đí states, “When the rice stores are full, villagers are not afraid of famine in one or even two years if calamity and loss of crops happen.”

    Mentioning the new high-yield rice species, village leader A Nghị asserts candidly: “No! We villagers only need sufficient food. We have available indigenous rice seeds which are free from pesticide and extremely tasty. With these indigenous species we can keep traditional ritual offerings as well as our ancestors’ customs.”

    Picture 2: Sacred forests surrounding the civilized and wealthy village. Photo: Nguyễn Văn Sự/CIRUM.
    Admiration of traditional values

    Đăk Sao is known as the ‘new countryside’ not because of a good-looking village gate or concrete road, but the insightful ‘village souls’ beneath its modest appearance.

    It seems to us that we could only see the incredible beauty of Đăk Sao thanks to its ‘remoteness’. 

    Among the beautiful features are the village children’s traditional and courteous greetings to us when we met them on their way to school. This cultural practice is rarely observed anywhere else today, which reminded us of the good old days of our own ‘old countryside’ in the past.

    For the cause of ‘countryside renovation’, while the lowland uses slogans of ‘internal strength’ and ‘mobilization of people’s power’, the Ka Dong people in Đăk Sao village promote their customary law, belief and traditional values.

    In Đăk Sao, the village elders maintain their prestige in preserving cultural norms, values and traditional structure for the lively function of clan and family relations, for a stable life and sustainable management of land, forest, and water sources. The elders will select time and decide on the strict organization of traditional ritual ceremonies such as worshipping deities of forest, mountains or water sources, ceremonies for rice seedling, or new rice crop festivals. It is extremely special since these ceremonies are practiced for generations through only detailed verbal regulations without any written recording.

    Picture 3: Village leader, Mr. A Nghị describing ceremonies for worshipping deities of forest and new rice crops. Photo: Nguyễn Văn Sự/CIRUM

    Other customary law and values, such as designing and maintaining a forest area for keeping placenta from new-born babies, spirit forests or cemetery, sacred forests for organizing traditional ceremonies, herbal forests and forbidden forests for protection of water resources have also been well-preserved.

    Đăk Sao can be seen as a unique model of constructing a civilized and wealthy ‘new mountainous countryside’ through the promotion of traditional values. The Đăk Sao ‘New countryside’ is an outstanding lasting treasure in the Central Highland since the threat forest loss, cultural impairment and depression has become more and more visible in this region.

    And it will be much more meaningful if this model of ‘new mountainous countryside’ of Đăk Sao is applied and replicated to remote border areas, where represent for a half of natural land area and a quarter of the population of the nation and hold significant basis for national security.

    Source: Trần Văn Việt, expert from Central Committee for Economics Commission of the Communist Party of Vietnam. The Vietnamese version of the article is covered on the website
    Translated into English by Pham Van Dung.