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Photo Essays

Mountainland: Vietnamese Photographs

Lao Cai Province, Vietnam – October 2016. A family is doing harvest work on their field, close to a river running through a valley. Rice is the main, and for some poor families the only, source of nutrition in the region. Harvesting season is the most crucial time of the year. The whole family works together to ensure the family’s supply of food for the coming year.

Mountainland: Vietnamese Photographs, photo essay by Sascha Richter

“Mountainland” surveys the lives and societies of upland Southeast Asia with reference to the geographical and socio-scientific concept of Zomia, which understands the region as culturally different from the respective dominant lowland societies and tries to challenge the widespread perception and narrative of the cultural unity of Southeast Asia as a region. It highlights the classical lifestyle of the mountain dwellers vis-à-vis the respective lowland societies and documents their daily struggle for existence.

The Southeast Asian Massif is a region that sprawls across Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, India and Bangladesh, roughly 2,5 million square kilometers. Most of the people dwelling there are fragmented into hundreds of ethnic identities, linguistically and culturally distinct from the populations that dominate the state cores in the valleys.

Estimations put the ethnic minority populations at around eighty million to one hundred million people.

The population of the hills is far more dispersed and culturally diverse than that of the valleys and their history is best understood as a history of runaways from nation building processes in the lowlands.

Historically all states, classical, colonial and independent nation-states, in the region have tried to bring such people under their administration and encouraged politics of economic, administrative, and cultural absorption into the majority population at the state core. Thereby making the upland both a space of political resistance and a zone of cultural refuge.

The region is knittered together not by political unity, but by comparable patterns of hill agriculture, dispersal, mobility, rough egalitarianism and cultural refuge from the institutional authority of the state. Rugged mountains and harsh landscapes are providing a homeland and shape the environment for the people balancing between traditional livelihood and modern structures.

Naturally, today, in our fast growing, globalized world, the option of avoiding the state is one that is fast vanishing, also for the people of the hills.

Mountainland: Vietnamese Photographs – North Northwest is the first part of this ongoing project.

(by Sascha Richter)

Three generations are harvesting the family’s rice, that will serve them as food for the coming year. Children are an important work force for poor families, who help earning the income.
A boy takes care of the family’s herd of water buffaloes while his parents are working on their field. Many children need to support their families rather than going to school.
Girls are playing with stones on a self-made board.
Women are using baskets to separate rice grain and straw as part of their harvest work.
A group of people is negotiating the price for a water buffalo on a local market. Buffaloes can serve as farm animals as well as an investment, with prices ranging up to $2000.
A small village located at the foot of a mountain in Ha Giang province. The area is known for its karst topography and lack of water, making livelihood for the people dwelling in this region very hard.
Two men are peeling garlic to plant the seed as next year’s crop.
A boy is carrying home his crop, that will serve as food for the family\’s animals. Cane is one of the most common agricultural products in Ha Giang province. Because of its karst topography in certain areas it is very difficult to cultivate rice or grow vegetables.
A man rides through his village on a motorbike. Motorbikes are necessary means of transportation and bridging the long distances between remote villages and towns along the mountains.
Children are performing to a Communist Party of Vietnam’s song that is played every day at school. Most of the children do not understand the meaning as their mother tongue is not Vietnamese.
A twelve year old girl is taking care of her relatives during the day, while their parents are working on the fields.

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