Mơ H’ra villagers made their first traditional statues to decorate the heritage space in their communal rông house and to share with visitors a unique feature of Bahnar culture, Gia Lai province, March 2022 ©

British Council

Trần Thị Bích Ngọc is a culture official at the Kông Lơng Khơng commune, the People’s Committee, managing cultural affairs in eight villages in the commune. Ms Ngọc was assigned by the People’s Committee to assist the Mơ H’ra village in activities under Heritage of Future Past in 2018. The head of the Mơ H’ra village and villagers also trust Ms Ngọc to act as  a competent manager and activity organiser. Before the pandemic, Ms Ngọc set up community meetings to discuss project matters and gain consensus with the villagers and organised activities such as heritage management, tourism development training courses and local festivals. As Covid-19 placed restrictions on travelling, Ms Ngọc was quick to set up and train Mơ H’ra villagers to use online conferencing facilities for communication with the project staff and collaborators. From late 2020 to early 2021, Ms Ngọc organised for Mơ H’ra villagers to join online workshops with creative facilitators from the Heritage of Future Past project to develop a heritage storytelling toolkit - using drawing, photography, video and writing to capture and share stories about their heritage. In 2022, Ms Ngọc initiated a project with a group of women in Mơ H’ra to organise training in traditional weaving and making products to sell as souvenirs. She is now supporting a plan being developed by the village’s tourism management board, proposing to re-vamp their hospitality services, including building a new rông house as accommodation for tourists. 

Weavers in Mo H'ra village demonstrating the traditional weaving technique of the Bahnar in Kong Long Khong commune, Kbang district, Gia Lai province, March 2022. ©

British Council 

According to Ms Ngọc, Mơ H’ra was known beforehand, as the village was mentioned as a site for gong culture in Viet Nam’s application to UNESCO.  This lead to the addition of the space of gong culture of the Central Highlands to the  UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Mơ H’ra villagers started to see benefits as Heritage of Future Past assisted them in  developing their local tourism, starting with providing skill training to setting up a local tourism development board and different hospitality skill groups, obtaining government health and safety certificates and organising test tours. Local people had better awareness of their cultural heritage other than the gongs, such as craft-making, traditional folk songs, weaving traditions and etc., as they started to see that they could  use their cultural heritage in local tourism activities. Mơ H’ra villagers used to sell their gongs for money. Now they keep their gongs to practice playing at local festivals as well as in performances they put together for tourists, which also helps  them earn money. Although there have not been many opportunities for villagers to earn income from tourism activities as they had to cancel tours as soon as the pandemic hit, the Mơ H’ra villagers are keen to pick things up again now that Covid-19 has receded.

One thing that Ms Ngọc believed had motivated her and Mơ H’ra villagers to take part in Heritage of Future Past was that they were involved in every step of the process , from formulating ideas to planning and carrying out activities that let them work with their heritage objects or practices. In Ms Ngọc’s view, the Mơ H’ra villagers agreed with and were willing to be part of the working process of Heritage of Future Past as everything was transparent – all plans and issues were discussed openly with the community, and changes were made to reflect local conditions. Ms Ngọc saw a shift in the awareness and attitude of young people, old artisans and government officials alike – everyone showed more enthusiasm in their roles in project activities as it was clear that the process included and benefited everyone. She hoped to be able to work with the Mơ H’ra villagers soon to continue the work they have started on  tourism development now that local tourists are starting to come through their village again.