Tree bark coats central minority against the elements

By Hoang Tao   January 16, 2020 | 03:00 am PT
The Pa Ko of Quang Tri Province weave "A Mung" bark into traditional costumes that offer protection from harsh weather.

Shirts and blankets made of "A Mung" (an easily identifiable, rare softwood plant that only grows on alluvial lowlands, but not wetlands) from the museum of ethnic minorities run by Ho Van Phuong, 46, from Krong Klang Town of Dak Rong District, drew much attention at an agricultural fair in Huong Hoa District of Quang Tri recently.

Employed at the Dak Rong's culture department, Phuong heard many villagers refer to the forest dwelling Pa Ko’s clothes making method.

In 2015, having performed the PaRoong ritual, a traditional Pa Ko practice ensuring good health on entering the forest, he set off to find durable bark to replicate the technique.

Ho Van Phuong shows the blanket of Pa Ko ethnic group that was made from barringtonia acutangula plant. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

Ho Van Phuong inspects a typical Pa Ko blanket made of "A Mung". Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

In the heart of the forest, Phuong and other artisans carefully removed the "A Mung" bark, cut it into sections, dried it out, and removed the hard-outer shell. Soaking the soft inner layer in water, then leaving it outside for several days, helps make it porous enough to sew into a coat, etc.

"The bark is light, resistant to termites, retains heat in the winter, and is durable. It can also be used as protection when hunting or working," Phuong explained.

He added the new coat to his unique collection of Pa Ko tools, musical instruments and equipment, before embarking on a blanket project.

Ho Van Duong, a 70-year-old elder of Ta Riec Village in Ba Nang Commune, said his grandfather used to make these coats for his family in Ta Rut Commune, and has not seen one in decades.

"Found in dense forests, "A Mung" has a straight trunk, few branches, smooth and green bark, and is very difficult to find," the village elder said.

Kray Suc wears the coat made from barringtonia acutangula plant that was using the traditional method of the Pa Ko people. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

Kray Suc swathed in a fetching "A Mung" coat. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Tao.

Kray Suc, 56, an official from the culture department, said Pa Ko commonly wear the coats, symbolizing a strong belief in ancestor and spirit worship, to commence harvest season and during traditional festivals. However, only a few still know how to make them.

Phuong and Kray Suc are exploring ways to preserve this one-of-a-kind tradition.

"We are trying teach younger generations how to make these coats and protect the forest," Kray Suc said.

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