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(Case study of Ma Lieng minority group in Ke village, Lam Hoa commune, Tuyen Hoa district, Quang Binh province, Vietnam)
Written by: Pham Van Dung
Part I. General Information of Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam
1. Position of indigenous peoples in Vietnam
54 ethnic groups are officially recognized in Vietnam, of which Kinh majority counts for 85 percent and 53 other minority groups 15 percent. Most of minority peoples live in mountainous remote areas representing three fourths of Vietnam’s total area of 331,100 km2. Ethnic minority peoples keep a very important role to protect watershed forest, where they create evolution with their own wisdoms for long time. While such ethnic group as Muong has been living in Vietnam as long time as majority Kinh group, some such ethnic groups as Mong, Thai, Dao have migrated into and around Northern Vietnam since 300 to 400 years ago. Southwards migration and migration from lowland to highland have been happening in Vietnam strongly in 20th century. During 1991 to 2005 period, 130,000 households migrated to Central highland provinces. However the amount of migration reduced sharply from 47,000 during 1996-2000 periods down to 4,600 during 2001-2005. According to Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), difficult living condition (shortage of water and other facilities), shortage of land, environmental changes (landslide, land degradation) are the main causes of migration. In comparison to Kinh majority’s lowland- and midland-dominated areas, the mountainous areas remain higher percentage of poverty, more difficulty of information access and poorer infrastructure. In many areas, minority people face shortage of cultivating land, on the other hand, shortage of rights to decide on allocated land as the land user because of top-down planning. According to National General Statistics, in 2004, monthly income per person in Northwest mountainous region is VND 265,690 compare to that in Northern Red River Delta’s VND 488,180 and. The relevant figure comparison in the Southern Vietnam is: VND 390,180 against VND 832,970 for Central Highland and Northeast of Southern Vietnam respectively. Government report of May, 2007 released that there are 85,000 households or 383,000 people suffering from hunger, the most of them live in mountainous areas of Northeast, Northwest and North of Central Vietnam.
Recent national policy and developments on indigenous peoples
The Constitution of Vietnam provides in Article 5 that:
5th. habits.“The State carries out a policy of equality. Decision 146/2005/QD-TTg dated June 15th. recognizes land using actor for village-level community sharing similar culture.5 ton of cement or VND 300.3 ha of yearly-two-crop wet rice.15 ha of two-cropannum wet rice. customs or lineage. the land shall be taken back by the state without any compensation.25 ha of one-crop-annum wet rice or 0. there are some noteworthy Prime Minister’s decisions relating to minority peoples’ land rights and development: Decision 132/2002/QĐ-TTg dated October 8th.5 ha of yearly-one-crop wet rice or 0. The receivers should use land according to the laws and can get yields from existed trees on the reallocated land. Local people can access forest to take wood for their house improvement according to specific provincial regulations. Central budget assist an equivalence of 0. Decision No. houses and fresh water. If they are not in need of land usage. for the first time. 2005 on piloting models of forest allocation.5 ha of slope swiden land or 0. 2004 on policy of assisting poor difficult ethnic minority households with cultivated land. Decision 304/2005/QD-TTg dated November 23rd. Every nationality has the right to use its own language and system of writing. dated February. 2007. traditions and culture”. the state will take land back without compensation. 2005 on taking land back from state farms and state forest enterprises to redistribute to poor ethnic minority households. The land users shall direct manage and use land and shall not be allowed to transfer or mortgage allocated land within 10 years. and the state is the representative for the owner. They have to use land according to state planning and cannot legally transfer land within 10 years after the date of reallocation. Decision 134/2004/QD-TTg dated July 20th. The allocated forest receiver shall gain entire yields from the forest. However. The poor ethnic people with bad houses shall be assisted of VND 5 million from central budget plus other sources of assistance to build new house.000 per hectare annually. land is provided as the ownership of entire people. Each shall allocate forest land to households in case of no available cultivated land. The forest users and contractors shall be obliged to protect forest according to the laws to fulfill obligations according to the contract. contract to local ethnic minorities’ village-level community and households in the Central Highland for forest protection. solidarity and mutual assistance among all nationalities. Land Law 2003. which consists of more than 50% and 20-50% of ethnic minority people respectively. Under laws.000 per household. to preserve its national identity. In case of violation. residential land. by the Prime Minister to enclose “Vietnam Forestry Development Strategy for Period 2006 – 2020” gave 2 . The minimum area of allocated land per household is 1 ha of slope swiden land or 0. and to promote its fine customs. The forest contractor shall receive VND 50. The minimum area of allocated land per household is 0. and forbids all acts of national discrimination and division. Assistance of 100% and 50% expenditure for common fresh water system shall be offered from central budget to community. 2002 on solution of cultivated land and residential land for local minority people in Central Highland. 18/2007/QD-TTg.
land management decentralization and reallocation for the landless remained so slow in reality compared to the will in related legal document. isolated areas. Thirdly. isolated areas. Vietnam’s entering into the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) would be hardly effective in this situation. poverty alleviation and environmental protection: links and connections During the last 40 years. aimed at plantation on bare hills. quickly develop voluntary forestry extension organizations for the communes and villages. Since early 1990s there were big government programmes focusing on improvement of ethnic minority living condition and protect environment in the area. Programme 661. Vietnamese government has launched different programmes. IP's. Other attentions are paid to ethnic groups: Firstly. isolated areas. particularly in remote. which started since 1998. participation and interest in very large portion of forest. Other noteworthy development programmes are Programme 135. Secondly. which aims at assisting poor difficult ethnic minority households with cultivated land. 3 . which affected to minority peoples and their land. as continuation of Programme 327. which focused on infrastructure in remote area. natural resources. focus on training and forestry extension activities for the poor. because of shortage of local ethnic people’s ownership. 5. 4. Fourthly. Programme 327 started in 1993. The government is not interested in opening up forum of encouraging minorities’ ancestor domain. 3. houses and fresh water.priority for using forest extension agents belonging to ethnic minority groups in remote. focused on plantation on 5 million hectares of forest. While concerning budget investment to improve material life of ethnic groups. pay special attention to training for ethnic minority youth and forestry staff in remote. to resettle lowlanders to mountainous areas and stabilize the lives of both resettled and local people. residential land. which may somehow depict one of the Vietnamese NGOs efforts although it is not popular and representable for every relation between NGOs and ethnic minority people. particularly ethnic minorities and women. which are still under management of ineffective state forest enterprises and protected forest management boards. so that they are able to generate stable incomes from diversification of crops and livestock. 2006. create favorable conditions to attract young researchers. or Programme 134. Resettlement programme initiated since the early 1960s and existed to 1990s. women and ethnic minority peoples to be involved in scientific research and teaching. IP Non-Government Organizations and their alliances in Vietnam Please see the attached case study of Ma Lieng group. Vietnam and the Outside World Vietnam has started its formal integration since the event of its access to WTO in November.
That is rationale for confuse and even conflicts if governmental imposing laws. and firstly precautious by the government because of its inconsistent to that of the government’s top-down approach. the state forest enterprises’ introduction of forest land contract. scientists 4 . UNICEF. the project managers agreed with local authorities that. land boundary. which was very new in Vietnam. Asian Development Bank (ADB). FAO) and other governmental agreement (such as Vietnam-German cooperation – GTZ. With large scale and big fund. villagers had to cut down trees otherwise they would not have chance to receive forest land. they only allocate forest land to a certain household. Only a few NGOs committed and challenged with this issue. this approach does not make any contribution to sustainable development. which offer people with VND 50. This type of project favour giving-and-receiving manner rather than encouraging target groups to actively find and solve problems by themselves. Besides government programmes. For instance. different international programmes were implemented since early 1990s. regulations do not thoroughly learn. they cooperate with so-called mass organizations (provincial or district women unions. Each ethnic people have founded their own customary laws and concept relating to land and forest.Through those programmes. their great pro-government objectives of fighting poverty. and close relationship with authorities. However. No other way. By causing dependency to the people. international and local NGOs tried to introduce bottom-up approach. who can assure the proclaimed ‘bottom-up’ approach of those projects wherever the implementation agencies are inherently familiar to top-down approach? A popular example from one of this type of projects was that. Vietnamese NGOs initially. the government introduced concept of land rights. Base on this they have been living in harmonious environment for centuries and could solve disputes within and between community by their own norms and customs. which also affect minority peoples. They are welcomed by the government because of large amount of money.000 (approximately US$ 4 that time) to protect one hectare of forest per year. On the other hand. To ease the work as well as procedures at localities. United Nations agencies (UNDP. youth unions. Vietnam-Japan cooperation) invested in improvement of infrastructure. who follow the project planning of cutting down all recovering forest for planting mono crop of pine trees. farmer associations) to carry out projects. customary laws. they hardly avoid bureaucratic or top-down approach to poor people. those NGOs were suspected and disturbed by some authorities. Then they gained more and more understandings and support from open-minded officials. forest contract. that made local ethnic people confused. This type of actions undermined ethnic people’s local knowledge of cultivation while bothering local people’s link with the forest as well as their practice of traditional customs. the World Bank (WB). living conditions and partially in reforestation. but they simultaneously concieve people as employee and take them out of their traditional ownership of forest land. of which people should become users of natural resources and owners of development process. By this way. At the beginning time. forest enterprises play tragic and magic game to claim their legal rights over the inherent land of local people. known as science technology organizations bloomed up during 1990s. many of them kindly follow state-like organizations to avoid such so-called ‘sensitive’ issues as indigenous land rights. In this situation. Since the close relationship to the government. respect and try to integrate into local values.
They only repeat the name of Chut when contact to outsiders formally. but they partially influenced radical changes of legislation.000 people living in 7 villages in provinces of Quang Binh and Ha Tinh. Sach. The people of each group recognize themselves into their own specific ethnic group. Part 2. May. Lam Hoa commune. The Ma Lieng belongs to Viet-Muong language family. cultural values or customs. Ma Lieng area 5 . This ethnic group consists of approximately 1. the equal rights of both wife’s and husband’s name on land certificate are good examples for legislative reform. Derive from those consistent NGOs’ works. Quang Binh province. Tuyen Hoa district. the recognition of community as one of subject to land user. The reason is that.because of their transparent objectives and engagement for grassroots democracy. identity. central of Vietnam. Brief introduction of Ma Lieng ethnic group The Ma Lieng is formally recognized as Chut minority group. Arem into one officially group. social equality and development. which is called Chut. However. Although success and lessons from land allocation to ethnic poor people assisted by challenged progressive NGOs could not be replicated by all related organizations. Vietnam 1. the government combined Ma Lieng and four other groups of Ruc. Case study of Ma Lieng ethnic group in Ke village. those groups do not share the same language.
3. However side effects of free trading and other outside influence challenge the strengths and maintenance of community spirits of Ma Lieng people as well as other ethnic groups in Vietnam. which can specify them from people of other ethnic groups. 2. Quang Binh province 41 As above 1.Ma Lieng population of 2004. Quang Binh province 99 As above 94 As above 92 Thanh Hoa commune. 6. Transition process Ma Lieng people traditionally practiced swidden cultivation on slope land.1. customs for generations. Village Lom Rao Tre Ke Chuoi Cao Ca Xen Bach Tai Total Households 71 22 35 25 20 23 10 206 Residents Location 447 Dan Hoa commune.028 While facing many difficulties. 7. 4. Tuyen Hoa district. an independent research institute established in Vietnam. Case of Ma Lieng in Ke village. Tuyen Hoa district. September (according to SPERI1 research) # 1. Since then they gradually gave up and entirely stopped traditional cultivation due to the government policy on “stop shifting cultivation”. Lam Hoa commune. Quang Binh province 116 139 Lam Hoa commune. Quang Binh province 2.dolame. Ke villagers settled permanently at the current area at the effort of resettlement programme’s stabilization of ethnic people’s life. Ma Lieng people have been keeping their own traditional values. educational system. Situation of Ke village before 2003 2.1. Minh Hoa district. The community has been isolated in terms of geographical location. access to information particularly policies frame and implementing 1 SPERI: Social Policy Ecology Institute. Since 1993. www. 2. 5.org. 6 .1. Tuyen Hoa district. By that way Ma Lieng people used to live with the forest in harmony.
Besides some traders offered Ma Lieng youths with wine. Therefore their staff. which had been evaluated as unsuccessful and ineffective. At the beginning of sedentary cultivation.process. different government programmes did not pay enough attention to learn and understand the community’s cultural values. finds location of a house. Ke villagers faced various difficulties. Village elder traditionally plays an important role in advising villagers. especially housing condition since 2003. especially worshipping. With regards to the dilemma. SPERI introduced the term Ngoi hoa2 (housing style) to imply this approach. especially those of resettlement’s unrespected behaviour and attitude have led to the loss of trust and confidence of Ma Lieng towards their local authorities. The implementing department could not find better solutions for improvement of approaches of previous resettlement programme. advice the villagers in both material and spiritual aspects of life. On the other hand. as a developmental organization.1. The Ma Lieng difficulties created opportunities for Kinh free traders to take advantages to sell rice and necessities at high price while products from Ma Lieng people remained low price. go back to forest and keep community spirits or to stay at the offered unfamiliar house and gradually forget and lose their own identity. 7 . If they continue topdown plan and implementation. On the other hand. they would be repeatedly observe their built houses unsuitable and useless to villagers. They suffered from hunger because they could not get used to requirement of new cultivation techniques. represents entire villagers to contact to superpower holy spirits in community actions. while keep traditional Ma Lieng house style and therefore their own cultural values by their own contribution to build houses. villagers have to choose either to refuse state-imposed houses. and infrastructure. makes final decision on settlement of a certain village.2. which made worrisom and confuse to both community and state implement staff. Therefore. Decision 134/2004/QD-TTg legalized this programme. This broke inherent community atmosphere. various such common activities as housing ceremonies. ceremonies. As a result. 2. worshipping forest spirits lead by village elder. who lead. SPERI should play an active role to advice for preservation of Ma Lieng human-ecology system simultaneously contribute to building up suitable approach to such vulnerable community. and the hardest happened during 2001 to 2003. The government introduced a programme of helping poor ethnic people to improve their living. Ma Lieng people traditionally respect ong pau or gia lang (village elder). which was indicated by mutual support. cigarettes. Ke villagers experienced traditional leadership crisis. which caused drunk and conflicts within and between Ma Lieng community and outsiders. Ma Lieng people found it so hard to recover community spirits as well as to relief and escape from growing loan. Nice behaviour 2 Ngoi hoa (housing style) refers to holistic activities for improvement of accommodation condition. They had to go to forest to take non-timber products just to survive. Leadership crisis As many other ethnic peoples.
2. customary laws of the people as well as their identity and community spirits. SPERI understood that development of Ma Lieng group must contain promotion of their own identity. They only feel free to tell their belief. uninspired and meaningless if building process does not follow their customs. customary laws. no one amongst the elders can fully meet requirement and act as actual inherent traditional village elder. young generation will not gain any opportunities to learn and practice Ma Lieng customs. a sacred pillar for ancestors’ spirits.2.1. setting fire and entering new house. Ma Lieng people define good and bad days for events of starting any crucial work. That reflects strong link between human and their nature. belief. SPERI staff learnt that. it requires and retains Ma Lieng belief. of which traditional leadership 8 . and taboo to trusted close friends. a family must follow such ceremonies as choosing and breaking land. In this situation. values and thereon.between elder and villagers. who do not show respect to them or who impose things to them. Traditional respect towards elders is eroded. which are designed and built by outsiders. “Our community value shall be destroyed by market value… How painful I feel when I sit here next to the window but am unable to control my grandchildren”. Those customs relate strongly to belief. If the crisis exist for a long time. Therefore. To complete a house. That partially answers to the fact that Ma Lieng and other similar vulnerable minority people do not care for and easily give up supported houses. values through community ceremonies or common activities. identity. men and women was confused. values. Luckily. Approach to Ngoi hoa programme 2. in which human must respect nature’s holy spirits for any of resource utility. Learn and encourage strength of cultural values SPERI tried to avoid any subjective view to development plan by learning ethnic people prior to every intervention. The role of community traditional leadership Through learning community. Ma Lieng house do not only consist of roofing or material meaning. Traditional elder’s role was vulnerably undermined due to the challenge from the boost of outside influence during the period transferring from traditional to sedentary cultivation. They do not accept trees without top. but essentially. therefore Ma Lieng group may face threat of cultural and spiritual disappear although their physical persons remain and develop. pillar for son-in-law and pillar for daughter-in-law. 2. starting of wood selection. they would feel a house cold. between the old and youths. The villagers would never openly talk to those. 2. or being covered by clockwise rope-trees for their house pillars. and a sacred window for specific transferring death body out of the house. A Ma Lieng house-on-pillar should consist of a sacred room. at that moment SPERI had built quite good relationship and got friendly image towards villagers. setting up house.2.2. One of the elders complained that. hence they should care for land and forest for sustainable harmonious life.
9 . as the reform of traditional leadership. 2. the holder (worshipper) of the ceremony would refer to all holy spirits of the watershed areas. who is the holder of all worships for ceremonies of every house building.should be encouraged. Interest groups: environment for civil society In order to involve all members of the community. who were experienced elders. decide. cross-check and supervise. Different interest groups create free environment for villagers to choose. Ma Lieng people therefore gradually recover confidence and proud of their own cultural values. particularly elders’ council have made efforts to regenerate community atmosphere. Interaction between different clan leaders and members create good environment for every involvers to show their wisdoms. carpentry or house setting. Those groups became implementation groups for Ngoi hoa and other development activities. known as hoi dong gia lang (elders’ council). SPERI staff would be advisor or facilitator only for community necessity. no one could be sure Ke villagers to vote and adopt one person becoming a new elder. This practice creates available opportunities for youths and children to learn to respect and care for nature. Thanks to attention and motivation to involve in community works. secretaries for elders’ strategic planning and coordination. Those elders came together to establish a new form. contribute. Since the representatives for every clan. Each group set up their own regulation through discussion between members. it is necessary to develop those interest groups for each specific target groups. Elders’ council brought various opinions from different clans into democratic open discussions aiming at community solutions for crisis and embarking upon Ngoi hoa simultaneously. one of the council’s members traditionally succeeded and played the role of spiritual leader. Thanks to elders’ council.3. willing to engage into community activities. This indicates villagers’ acknowledgement of the nature. To deal with this dilemma. women prefer to join ground leveling. where their ancestors had settled. discuss. During the sacrifice. which is found the most suitable for her or him. feeling. as the foundation for keeping community identity. SPERI advisor facilitated villagers to discuss and vote leaders of every clan. especially youths. While youths are interested in such groups as wood harvesting and transporting. elders’ council reflects clan’s or every member’s thinking. They gained further confidence and active role in community works while SPERI field staff worked as learners. relatives to solve any difficulties deriving from Ngoi hoa activities. who were their children. women in Ngoi hoa and development activities. villagers. join. capacity in the competition for the sake of the community. They gave advice to villagers. whenever the elders’ council found it unable to fulfill their own responsibilities. Amongst the best reputable persons. Sometimes they acted as the judges to settle disputes between members of different Ngoi hoa implementing groups or between villagers and outsiders. Ma Lieng traditional values are encouragingly practiced. the head of the group will be chosen by members. A member from a certain group can move to others according to the member’s wish. which used to perform strongly without outside and market impacts.2. One can become member of a certain group. domestic affairs and services. historical move of their ancestors. which offer them necessities for happy life. While the eldest man became advisor for elders’ council. However. community spirits.
community atmosphere. at the beginning time of Ngoi hoa. During implementation of Ngoi hoa. and reduces outside support simultaneously while the members’ income is getting better. the members of new splited groups may exchange to get better support to each others. For instance. However. more and more Kinh people have been making pressure by getting into Ke forest to take wood without the community’s consent. SPERI staff facilitated villagers to make plan to clarify forest area of the whole community and division between households. necessities from their members to the group or community. SPERI conducted supporting land allocation to Ke villagers according to their needs and suggestions. so that to transfer into mapping and land use certificates. which seems unable to solve problems themselves. A group should first self-control. so that to suit to the whole community’s scheduled works. Because 10 . Elders’ council only helps a group.community requirement. to suggest and implement plan. and group’s regulations. Therefore.3. During 1999-2000. where their ancestors have lived. After one year. this group decided to split the group. They applied forest contract to Ke villagers according to Programme 327. Every group requires more and more such contributions as food. members as well as the community have been gaining further decisive roles and confidence through Ngoi hoa implementation. every interest group has amended their own regulations according to community’s changing needs and requirement. which used to be neglected that time. most of traditional boundary of Ke village became forest land of the enterprise. which did not confirm the villagers’ forest land rights. Group members and their head should solve difficulties. so that to Ma Lieng youths learn and practice carpentry speed up the process. techniques to set up houses themselves simultaneously create good competitive environment amongst members. 2. On the other hand. Practically Ke villagers could not access and use forest in far areas according to their traditional boundary. every members of wood collecting team should work together. so that to regain community spirits. Since the establishment of Tuyen Hoa state forestry enterprise. Villagers actively apply their own customary laws to discuss and find out solutions for solving any disputes derived from field work of land allocation process. Natural resources and Ma Lieng community Before 1993 Ke villagers shift houses and therefore the whole village from an area to another according to their cultivation circle. They define their own boundary by acknowledging watershed areas. disputes derive from their own operation.
in the process of recovering community spirits. which relates to learning from people. crops. They could make use of the allocated forest in Ngoi hoa programme. In this process. Good policy may not translate into reality effectively if implementation staff do not understand. encouraging what people have should be shared and further applied for better quality of support for ethnic people and their natural resources. Ke elders’ council are trying to contact and share their experiences to elders from other Ma Lieng villages. and community area. community forest. leading to distrust between target groups and implementing staff. According to the network regulation.4. So far villagers of Ke as well as other villages have been facing the pressure of illegal forest exploitation by outsiders. they have inherently faced unanswered question of adaptability and effectiveness. cultural identity as well as protection of forest. respect and encourage target groups’ values and strengths. As a small group facing hunger simultaneously. and hunger eradication. Conclusion The government and foreign programmes have invested a great fund to ethnic minority people. 2. Ma Lieng people will step-by-step reduce the cases of outsiders’ illegal forest exploitation. Understand this problem. weak support and weak fulfillment of local authority. Top-down centralized way of management could not help to ensure effective improvement of poor ethnic minority people’s living standard. to create legal environment for NGOs and people’s initiatives and organizations’ effective work for the sake of sustainable and harmonious development. Completion of legal system and its enforcement is necessary to clarify authority’s responsibilities. all current 28 households and 3 community organizations (elders. Ma Lieng elders gather monthly to discuss problems and try to find out solutions. SPERI helped villagers to bring their needs to district authorities. It will become problematic to villagers if the government evaluates land allocation programme and its beyond. women) received land certificates on 305 ha of forest land. They have set up network of key-persons of Ma Lieng community. the community’s further strengths. Upon the agreement of district leaders. This is caused by surrounding Kinh people’s jobless and shortage of land for cultivation. they harvested trees from forest for building new houses. After receiving land certificates. practical plans to solve gradually. The policy may be distorted that way.NGOs have not rights to decide on land allocation. On the other hand. 11 . Ma Lieng people are unable to ensure entirely their forest user’s rights. especially forest protectors to stop violation. the bottom-up approach. development of Ma Lieng traditional leader network. After processes of land allocation at the field and in the office. rice field. Ke villagers discussed to make planning on their residential area. SPERI coordinated between villagers and technicians from district forestry and cadastral departments to ensure to suit villagers’ actual forest border recognition to that of technicians. youths. However. ethnic people’s customary laws should be respected as good instruments to protect their specific traditional cultural values. Hopefully.
2006.jpg http://vietnamnet.1935663&_dad=portal&_schema=PORT AL&item_id=2056666&thth_details=1 12 .Reference http://dolame.org Van Nghe Dan Toc (Ethnic Literature). dated February. 2007. 2004: Briefing report for Vietnam http://www. 2007) www. 5th.vn/xahoi/doisong/2006/07/592150/ UNDP. Vietnam Forestry Development Strategy for Period 2006 – 2020 (Decision 18/2007/QD-TTg. issues 6 to 12 Thoi Bao Kinh Te Sai Gon (Saigon Economic Times).vn/portal/page?_pageid=33.ethnologue. Special Themes of Environment Policy and Sustainable Development Prime Minister.com--maps--VNMI_ETH. 2006.chinhphu. series of articles relating to Ma Lieng group.