Spooked villagers abandon 'haunted' resettlement area in Central Highlands

By Tran Hoa   November 19, 2022 | 01:00 am PT
Spooked villagers abandon 'haunted' resettlement area in Central Highlands
A Um stands next to his abandoned house in Kon Tum Province. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa
Several "unexplained" deaths in a Kon Tum resettlement area have frightened villagers and prompted them to leave the place with no plan to return.

A Um, 64, and his wife often collect leftover coffee seeds next to their abandoned concrete house in Kon Tum Province's Tu Mo Rong District. But as they are not tended to properly, dozens of the plants only yield a few dozen kilograms of seeds.

"We harvest them to get money for booze and cigarettes," Um said as he told his wife to hasten so they could return to their village before dark.

Mang Ri Commune in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum nestles in a large valley at the foot of Ngoc Linh Mountain. The commune has around 500 families, all of them belonging to the Xo Dang ethnic minority community. They make their living by farming.

The center of the commune is more populous than other areas thanks to its flat terrain. But in contrast with a place that bustles with life, a few hundred meters away from the Mang Ri People’s Committee stands a resettlement that resembles a ghost town. It has been there for decades, with over 70 homes abandoned and severely degraded, becoming havens for plant life and vermin.

In this commune, locals speak of ghosts and curses, often in connection with sudden deaths in the neighborhood. These stories have driven residents away from Chung Tam Village, a resettlement area, and returning to their old village.

Aerial view of a resettlement area that has been abandoned for years in Kon Tum. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa

Aerial view of the resettlement area in Kon Tum Province that has been abandoned for years for fear of ghosts, curses and what are believed to be unnatural deaths. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa

Ten years ago, Um's family was ecstatic to hear that authorities had decided to provide them with tens of millions of dong to be relocated to a resettlement area after heavy rains wiped out a large swathe of a hill in the old Chung Tam Village. The resettlement village had electricity, roads, schools and flat terrain, and homes offer shelter from rains and storms.

The happiness lasted till the day two of Um’s siblings, followed soon by the deaths of two other relatives.

At first, Um believed that his loved ones had died of some sickness. But several deaths later, as people began talking about them, the tales of ghosts and curses gained currency and Um started to believe that "this village was haunted."

"In the dead of night, I would hear the winds howl and the cries of children coming from the village’s Banyan tree," Um said, visibly afraid.

In the years that followed, the talk and stories multiplied. People began to shut doors and windows after dark, fearing that unnamed deities would spirit them away.

"The deities return and make us pay for our sins. There have been days when two people die on the same day," said A Doi, 65, a village elder. Villagers have made many sacrifices of goats and chickens, hoping to appease the angry deities, but the deaths continued. In the 9 years since villagers settled in the area, 50 people have died, A Doi said.

People began to leave the place, quietly packing up their stuff and returning to their old village about 4 km away on uneven terrain beneath the mountain.

A Doi said most of the deaths that occurred since the villagers returned to their old village were of old people. The elder said he would never return to the resettlement again.

Nguyen Minh Tri, deputy chairman of the Mang Ri Commune People’s Committee, said the resettlement area used to be land earmarked for forestry, but converted to make room for over 70 families in Chung Tam, who were living in an area with high risks of landslides. A few years after they moved, many villagers were compensated with "large amounts of money" after a road expansion project cut through their fields.

With money in hand, many residents of Chung Tam, developed drinking habits that eroded their health. Tri said the reason why there were so many unusual deaths was people’s waning health, not supernatural forces.

Instead of going to the hospitals, villagers decided to turn to gods and deities instead. Village elders also told people that the area was not livable and could only be used for farming. Authorities have tried to persuade people to return to the resettlement area, but many have refused to do so.

"They only agree to go there whenever there’s a storm. It’s like a storm shelter for them," Tri said, adding that if people don’t return to the resettlement area in the coming time, the land would be seized by authorities and handed over to the local farming cooperative.

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