Hmong Rock Fences In Ha Giang

(No.10, Vol.6,Dec-Jan 2017 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Rocky fences, Dong Van Rocky Plateau in spring, 2014
Photo: Hoang Manh Cuong

An ethnic family building a rocky fence, Dong Van Rocky Plateau, Ha Giang Province, 2015
Photo: Tran Dinh Thuong

Dong Van Rocky Plateau in spring
Photo: Vu Chien

Dong Van Rocky Plateau, a UNESCO’s ‘Global Geopark’ is about 2,356km2 in area, surrounded by steep earthen mountains, 1,000-1,600m high, separated by deep valleys and fast streams.
Due to its peculiar soil content and rugged landscape, Dong Van Rock Park has many natural wonders such as Ma Pi Leng Pass and Quan Ba Twin Hills.Due to its peculiar soil content and rugged landscape, Dong Van Rock Park has many natural wonders such as Ma Pi Leng Pass and Quan Ba Twin Hills.
UNESCO highly appreciates the cultural peculiarities of the 17 ethnic minorities with a total population of 250,000 living on Dong Van Rock Plateau, considering them very distinct. Having been here since time immemorial, these groups possess much precious heritage, such as Dong Van Old Town, Vuong House, Lung Cu Flag Pole.
The Dong Van people have accumulated rare agricultural arts such as cultivating plants and vegetables on rocky soil where nothing seems to be able to grow. The skill of farming in rock cavities is a National Intangible Heritage and currently presented for UNESCO to be recognized as a World Intangible Heritage. Another interesting feature of lifestyle on this ‘rocky desert’ is that people use rocks to build fences separating dwellings, paddies, cattle pens and grazing spaces of different households, clans, and villages. Visitors to Dong Van will be amazed to see rock fences, old and new, everywhere they go.
The Hmong are one of the earliest ethnic groups that have the custom of building rock fences, and theirs are the most well-built.
Starting at the age of 6, Hmong boys follow their mothers to carry rocks to an assigned place, preparing new fences. Before building a new fence, the host family hast to prepare a feast for the clan and neighbours and consecrate to the tutelary god. Most Hmong men know how to build a rock fence. Of course, the quality of the fence depends on the builder’s skills and experience A good builder can quickly figure out the place and position for every rock. No bonding material is used to build these fences. They may look simple and craggy, but it takes a lot of skill and dexterity to build them.
Hmong rock fences come in all sizes and shapes such as circle, square, diamond etc. depending on what they enclose. Some even build a heart-shaped fence just for fun. At the base of a newly built fence, they often plant vines and flowers. In spring these plants blossom, mesmerizing visitors from other lands.
It may take a month or years to build a fence, depending on the height, thickness, length and the purpose of the fence.
The fences surrounding a household dwelling are the strongest and highest, because they are designed to protect people and their property from wild predators and evil spirits. Built with bigger and harder rocks, they have thick base and grow thinner toward the top. This kind of fence is usually 1.5 - 2m tall.
Today, although many roads on Dong Van Rocky Plateau are concrete convenient for transportation of building materials to remote villages, the Hmong still preserve their custom of building rock fences as a unique feature of their tradition.

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