Has the “Ghost Forest” run out of hanging tombs?

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Former hanging tombs.

Before going to Dak Long to see the hanging graves with my own eyes, I searched the internet to learn about burial methods in the world and learned that there are several basic types: One is burying in the ground or immersing in water to The dead body decomposes on its own. The second is for predators. Third is to use fire to transform the dead body. Thus, the hanging burial custom of the Gie Trieng people in Dak Long does not belong to any of the above groups. The dead are placed in a sturdy coffin and then hung on a tree. This form is similar to the style of “mysterious coffin burial” (putting the dead in a wooden coffin and hanging it on a cliff) or “cave burial” (putting the dead in a wooden coffin and placing it in a mountain cave) of the Dogona tribe in Europe. Phi or Bo people of Sichuan province, China.

Lieutenant Pham Xuan Hung, Captain of the reconnaissance team at Dak Long Border Guard Station, cut through the forest and led me to the “ghost forest”. Hung had just graduated from school and had only been at the station for a few years, so he was like me, that is, he had only heard about a forest with hanging graves of the Gie Trieng people but had never seen one. The dense forest and countless buzzing mosquitoes could not stop our determination to explore. Before arriving at the Ghost Forest, Hung and I begged a man Gie Trieng to lead the way, but after only hearing the words “ghost forest” the man’s face turned pale. He babbled out of breath: “Oh… I’m so scared!” I don’t dare go in there. Go in there and the ghost will take me away…”. So Hung and I had to grope around. Hung used all his reconnaissance skills to find directions and make judgments. And I used all my five senses to search. The damp and creepy forest has a strange attraction to me.

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And the current grave.

The night before, after sitting and asking the village elders about the origin of the hanging burial custom, we went to the house of Mr. A Nhom, former Secretary of the Dak Long Commune Party Committee. I tried asking: “I heard that Vai Trang villagers still practice hanging funerals?” Mr. A Nhom rolled his eyes and shouted: “Who told you that? Quit a long time ago. Journalists often write nonsense. Do not talk anymore!”. A Nhom’s face was filled with anger, causing me to apologize repeatedly and explain that I only wanted to understand this custom from a cultural perspective, and had no other intention. Finally, Mr. A Nhom calmed down. He said that the custom of hanging burials here actually has more social meaning than spirituality. From the first hanging tomb started out of respect for the leader who founded Vai Trang village, until now there have been hundreds of hanging tombs, but the deceased was not a village elder or a talented artisan, but simply just… rich people! According to Mr. A Nhom, only the rich are qualified to organize funerals for the dead. Only rich people can afford to buy precious wooden trees as big as several hugs and then hire chisels to carve them into the shapes of large animals. Only rich people can afford to buy a few buffaloes to treat the whole village to feasting and drinking for a whole month…

Lieutenant Colonel Hoang Van Bang, Political Commissar of Dak Long Border Guard Station also affirmed the same. He said that more than ten years ago, when articles reflected the burial custom here, Dak Long Border Guard Station conducted a very careful investigation of this matter. Because this is an extremely sensitive cultural issue. We must clearly understand the nature of the problem to be able to resolve it in a reasonable manner. Each ethnic group has a different culture that must be respected. Harsh behavior will bring unpredictable consequences. The “ghost forest” of Vai Trang village is located right next to the road to Dak Long commune, so from the perspective of environmental hygiene, the hanging burial custom is unacceptable. It will be a great risk for terrible epidemics that can kill many people, even an entire village.

After half a day of cutting across the dense bamboo forest, we could not find coffins hanging in the jungle, but only found scattered burial items such as jars, pots, knives, crossbows… that had been burned. broken, bent next to the remains of coffins that no longer had any shape. According to Mr. A Nhom, since the Border Guard and Dak Long commune mobilized, people no longer hang coffins on trees. The old hanging tombs have rotted over time. Last year, the entire “ghost forest” only had 11 hanging coffins, but the recent forest fire burned them all.

The accidental forest fire had a strong impact on the thinking of those who still adhere to the custom of hanging funerals. That’s why in the “ghost forest” we have now come across new graves with high mounds of earth and corrugated iron roofs looming under the canopy of forest leaves. Just looking at the size of the tombs, you can guess the situation of the homeowner. Most of the graves are buried directly in the ground like the popular “ground burial” of the Kinh people. Some well-off families build a tomb like an underground cement bunker in the ground, then hang the coffin suspended in it and cover it with a concrete lid. Occasionally we come across pre-built tombs, square concrete vaults, and beautiful corrugated iron roofs. Thus, the hanging burial custom of the Gie Trieng people in Dak Long commune, Dak Glei district, Kon Tum province essentially still exists but has transformed into a more “trendy” form.

Article and photos: Do Tien Thuy

According to People’s Army

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