Photographer Uncovers The Side of Vietnam You Never Knew Existed

Many people don’t know that Vietnam is a country made up of over 50 multi-ethnic groups that are rich in different cultures and traditions.

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While 54 of those groups are recognized by the Vietnamese government, a number of them are not.

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The Kinh ethnic group makes up 87% of the country’s population.

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The other 53 ethnic groups comprise around eight million of the country’s total population and are distinguished by their languages and lifestyles.

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French photographer Réhahn spent a significant amount of his travel time on rural roads in remote areas of Vietnam where he encountered some of the locals from these forgotten groups.

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Réhahn, who is based in Hội An in central Vietnam, visited Vietnam during a mission trip in 2007 and became captivated by the country’s people and landscape.

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During an 11-day motorbiking trip across the country, Réhahn stopped by various small towns and villages that were inhabited by Vietnam’s ethnic minorities.

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Many of them live in mountainous areas that are lush in greenery.

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Among those he encountered were people of the Cơ Tu, or Katu, ethnic group who were located two hours from Hội An. Women in the Cơ Tu group dress in skirts and short vests. They adorn themselves with jewelry including necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

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Life for these people is centered around the village. The village is led by the oldest male known as the “spiritual leader.” The spiritual leader is highly respected and helps resolves disputes among the villagers.

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According to Réhahn, individuals wake up daily at 8 a.m. and climb mountains and cross rivers with a backpack of firewood. They choose arable areas that are suitable for cultivating cassava and bananas.

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The Cơ Tu people live below the poverty line and feed themselves by farming. Réhahn wrote:

“They only have meat for once a month if they can earn enough money. Even though the electricity is available in the village, just a few families are able to afford it. Other villagers are too poor to have electricity or electric stove.”

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Along the way, Réhahn also met the Mnông people who mainly live in the mountainous areas of Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Quang Nam or Lam Dong province.

The people in the group live in “bon” villages that consists of dozens of different families. Their houses are made of wood and bamboo and their roofs are made from dried grass.  

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Those who live by rivers are masters of water rice farming and irrigation. Their main food sources include corn, cassava and sweet potato. They also enjoy sour foods including young bamboo shoots and marinated foods like fish sauce and fermented fish.

The Mnông have great respect for elephants and see them as a symbol of wealth, power and strong spirits. Elephants are caught and raised as pets, but also used as a mode of transportation for daily life.

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The Mnông have special protective laws for elephants as they live closely with the creatures and see them as partners and supporters. Réhahn took this photograph of a six-year-old girl in 2014. He explained:

“This photo symbolizes the respect between the human and elephants […] What makes the picture become special is the opposite between a huge natural creature as the elephant and the small girl — Kim Loan.”

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The Hmong people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Vietnam. They inhabit the highlands in regions of northern Vietnam.

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The Hmong people have different styles of dress depending on their subgroups. Black Hmongs can be found in traditional indigo blue clothing while the Flower Hmongs are usually in colorful attire. 

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The photographer also met members of the Lô Lô minority group on his journey. He took this portrait of a 17-year-old woman who belongs to the Lô Lô group.  

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During one of his recent trips, Réhahn met individuals from the Ơ Đu tribe. According to Réhahn, there are only about 500 Ơ Đu people worldwide. Nearly 200 of them can be found in Laos and the rest are in Vietnam.

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Little information can be found about the Ơ Đu people online.

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Réhahn had the opportunity to visit a classroom while on route to a village to find the Pà Thẻn ethnic group. The teacher allowed him to photograph students at the school.

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Réhahn also visited the home of the village leader. The leader’s wife dressed up in traditional Pà Thẻn attire.

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The Phù Lá people are distinguishable by their bright and colorful traditional clothing. Their sources of income include selling handmade crafts and farming.

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Along the way, he became acquainted with those from the Red Dao group. The Red Dao people are settled in Nam Toong, Supan and Ban Lech.

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Their style of dress is characterized by bright colors and embroidered designs. Women wear distinctive red triangular shaped turbans that are decorated with silver coins and red tassels.

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According to a travel site that focuses on tourism in Vietnam, the Tay minority are located in Ban Ho and Thanh Phu village. They are believed to be the earliest known minority group in Vietnam and settled in valleys in the northwest part of Sapa.

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The Cham group is concentrated in Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces. Their society is matriarchal and right of inheritances are reserved for daughters. Daughters carry on the family name of their mothers and grooms are expected to come live with his wife’s household after marriage.

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The Cham language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family.

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The Hà Nhì people inhabit Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces. The language of the Hà Nhì people belongs to the Tibet-Burman Group.

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Their clothing consists of raw earthy colors. The group uses a slash-and-burn method of cultivation to harvest and grow plants on their terraced fields.

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The Ba Na group is settled in Kon Tum Province and the western parts of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen Provinces. Their villages consist of houses built on stilts and a communal house called a rong.

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The Ba Na language is part of the Mon Khmer Group. The people are known to practice bartering of goods.

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Women from the Pa-ko minority group carrying harvested plants on their backs.

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The Black Dao are a subgroup of the Dao ethnic group in Vietnam. The Dao is thought to be the ninth largest ethnic group in Vietnam with a little less than a half million people.

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The La Hu ethnic group are known to inhabit parts of northern Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and eastern Myanmar. They are traditionally semi-nomadic people and live in villages at high elevations.

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Hrê people adopted a sedentary lifestyle and practice slash and burn cultivation, fishing, fruit gathering and basket weaving. Villages are led by a chief who is elected by the villagers and can be made up of 100 families.

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According to Réhahn’s site, he has met nearly 40 of the 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam. He plans to meet them all personally and to learn more about their cultural heritages.

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