Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hill Tribe Night


I'm in Hoi An now, finished my motorcycle trip the day before yesterday and night-bused here.

Before my driver was a tour guide, he was a hunter. And one of his old hunting buddies (who is just a farmer now) is a Mnong guy. The Mnong people reside in the Vietnamese central highlands, though there are some in Cambodia too. Their culture is matriarchal, so when my driver's friend was married his wife had to pay a dowry in livestock to her husband's family and then he went to live in her village.

We spent a couple hours in their longhouse knocking back homemade palm beer. Before deciding this was a good idea, my inner monologue went something like this: You're going to go blind...People have been fermenting alcohol for thousands of years...nah, you'll be fine.

Mother and son collecting palm leaves 

Topping off the fermentation jar with fresh leaves
Adding water to get the party started
new friends
final preparations 
The drinking begins 
At some point a lot of my pictures started to look like this...
Then this lady sang me a song about not having a husband yet
Even the best drinking nights usually don't have very compelling narratives. Suffice it to say, I had a great time. Everyone was warm and friendly, and I had to keep track of myself - if I'd drank as much as I was encouraged to they would've had to carry me out. Eventually I turned to my driver and said with deepest sincerity, "I really can't drink anymore." And we sped off to our hotel.

What's matriarchy like? No one besides my driver spoke English so there was only so much I could glean in a couple hours. All the women in the room seemed to have a sense of self that they didn't have to apologize for or think about too much. I couldn't imagine any of them using a hand to cover their mouth when they laugh. Quite often in Asia femininity is equated with 'cute' and girlishness, so it was refreshing to hang out with a bunch of women who don't feel like they have to act or look like children.

At one point the singer started shout-yelling some sort of animated story (my driver told me it had to do with farming). The man sitting next to her nodded, half-smiled, tittered lightly. And I thought to myself that was a pretty telling gender role reversal of a social interaction I've seen at bars and house parties many, many times.

I know when my trip is all over I will count this among the best of experiences.

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