Vietnam is in many ways an enigma. Devastated by a long war that ended only in 1975, it has built itself into one of the few economic success stories of recent years. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the cultural and financial capital, is a large, modern, bustling metropolis. Hanoi, the political capital, is by contrast small, quiet and ancient.
But the visitor must travel outside these and Vietnam's other large cities to get a flavor of the country's true, ancient past. Fortunately that is not difficult as most of the country is still rural and sparsely populated.
One of the most sparsely populated areas is the Central Highlands and it is here that the population consists mainly of indigenous, minority peoples. Around a hundred thousand people (10% of the area's total population) are from the Koho group. They are among the poorest of all the groups who live in the area — making their living mainly from farming.
I'd based myself in Dalat — the largest city in the Central Highlands area — while I took excursions to visit indigenous villages. I visited a handful of Koho villages over a few days. While I took many interesting photos in those villages, there is one photo that stands out that was taken in between villages. As I left one Koho village to walk to the next, I crossed paths with these four men who had been out gathering firewood. This activity is neither new nor unusual for the Koho. What is unusual is how much harder it is to find even this small amount of firewood as the area is slowly being deforested to make way for projects such as hydroelectric dams. Such "developments" are gradually eroding the traditional Koho way of life.
The Koho are featured in our documentary, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia.
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