(No.5, Vol.7,Oct-Nov 2017 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

A portrait of Krajan Plin

Books written by Krajan Plin

The circumstances of one K’ho boy’s birth were very unusual. In 1961, he gave out his first cry deep in the forest. One-year old, that sacred son of the forest once again was bathed in unique customs. He was seated on a gong for a consecration. Conducting the ritual was his grandfather – elder Krajan Tot, also named ‘Dam Dang’, the third-generation elder of the K’ho Lach tribe that settled at the foot of the majestic Langbiang Mountain.
That boy was Krajan Plin.
In the first ritual of his life, surrounded by offerings such as grilled chickens, rice, eggs and bananas, the tribe elder read incantations to open his ears to transfer language, culture, music, customs and sagas into Krajan Plin.
Perhaps with this sacred ritual intended for this K’ho boy alone, Krajan Plin was supernaturally chosen to be the spiritual bridge that brings the blood and salt of K’ho culture, which had been neglected and overridden in the cruel rush of modern rythyms to future K’ho Lach generations so that in 2000, Krajan Plin became the youngest, most respected elder of Tay Nguyen highlands, and the person who studied, collected, preserved and promoted K’ho customs in the truest and most lively fashion.
Krajan Plin relates he loved his people’s culture ever since he was ten. He followed the adults to learn to play gongs and other instruments. Folk music soaked his childhood, and later followed him to South-East Asia and Europe as he was invited to perform.
Dang Ya Village of Lat Commune (currently Lac Duong township of Lac Duong District, Lam Dong Province), the habitat of K’ho Lach people has undergone substantial changes in material and spiritual life. Introduced quite early to Western civilization by the French, and later mixed with the Viet culture, K’ho people gradually lost grip of their own customs.
Krajan Plin was born at the time when the village was moved from the old place inside Dan Kia Lake (today’s Xuan Huong Lake), which was their paddy field. Since then K’ho people’s life was once again upgraded. Bigger, taller wooden stilted houses replaced small ones made of bamboo. Witnessing the head-spinning pace of historical events that changed the face and the feel of weddings, consecration and sacrificial rituals and other celebrations, Krajan Plin couldn’t help feeling lost.
Perhaps today people know Krajan Plin more as a talented artist than as a tribal elder. With a strong warm voice and masterly hands versed with many instruments, he is a composer, a musician and a singer. He also writes poems, researches books on K’ho Lach customs, K’ho music and folklore. He has even written many historical sagas. He seems to be the expression of everything that is uniquely K’ho.
He knows languages of many ethnicities that live around the Lam Dong region such as Nong, Ma, K’ho, Sre, Chinh and is especially versed in Banah. He also knows English and French well.
Asked if he learned all the languages by himself, he said, that it was heaven’s gift. The gods and ancestors confided it all in him, as if he was the last one of the tribe. He is well received everywhere, which is also something mysterious.
Most people think he must have been trained and taught in an art school. But actually, he studied at Dalat Intermediate School of Medicine. Due to 10 years working in medical field in Dam Rong, Krajan Plin had a chance to study his people’s culture. Asked how he came up with the desire for digging deep into it, Krajan Plin shared an interesting story. ‘The first impression, the first striking thing for me was that the stilted houses were unlatched, and open, but I couldn’t enter. I asked myself, how can it be so? And I felt as if I had wandered into a different world (because my village was influenced by French culture) which I couldn’t understand. It opened for me new cultural dimensions and made me rethink about my ethnicity.’
Since then, whenever told about saga tellers that he didn’t know yet about, he went looking for them. He wanted to find sources and compare them to remove discrepancies. He can listen to a story he loves time and time again. Krajan Plin currently has over a hundred tapes in which he recorded sagas told by elders. And they, were very generous, as if they saw in him the heir of the cultural resources that could be passed down in oral form. That made him even more eager to collect, study, process, translate and analyse as much as possible.
There was a time when Krajan Plin intended to resettle to the US. But the love of the culture of his ancestors took him back home to continue the mission of restoring and enriching his people’s identity.
Nowadays, elder Krajan Plin introduces what has been restored of K’ho traditional dresses and music to tourists as part of their entertainment programs. He sees tourism as a way to accomplish his mission, despite some people and authorities questioning him about copyright. Their lack of understanding and their one-sided, short-sighted attitude nevertheless saddened him somewhat. Intrepid, Krajan Plin pioneers to combine tourism and restoration of ethnic identity. ‘That’s the liveliest way of preservation. Tourism can be used to nurture and promote culture!’ He sincerely stated.
With energy, love and passion, Krajan Plin has unearthed and blown life into K’ho culture. To him, the mission of going back to one’s roots is impossible without love. And little by little his work has been given more and more credit.
Depending on seasons, age and cultural background of tourists, modern day village elder Krajan Plin keeps on taking them to tour the forests. It’s a way to explore and to come back to one’s own nature.
Krajan Plin, born the sacred son of the forest half a century ago, his K’ho soul intact, still disappears into the forest every year. Coming back to the old forests means letting the soul come home to its origins. There, all his worries, fears and concerns about cultural issues, old customs and historical sagas turn into energy, love, joy of life and motivation to work and contribute.
Thanks to him, K’ho culture is no longer timid, hiding in a village corner. Through his efforts it will shine bright and glow in the people’s heart, igniting curiosity and desire to explore the realm of mythical old ages.

Text by Hong Thuy Tien; Photos by MPK
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