The Western Highland used to be divided into 3 provinces: Lam Dong, Dak Lak, and Gia lai-Kon Tum, but now it has 5 provinces: Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Gia Lai, Kon Tum.
Apart from Kinh people, the Western Highland also has the other communities like Ba Na, E de, Gia Rai and other minority people such as Xo Dang, Mo Nong, Ma, Co-ho…
Those people lived under a matriarchy; it means their child will bear their mother’s surname. Women are those have the right to make a decision in most important events in family and also are the breadwinner of their family. As a result, women will choose and then decide who will be their husband. If you have the chance to visit an E de family in Dak Lak, you will have more insights into this matriarchy. They have to do all of the hard work so their hands and feet are really rough and big. In the other side, men seem to run errands so that their hands look elegant.
The families that are blood-relations will decide whether they will live together in the same house or not depending on their custom. Their Rong houses are next to each other, there is one more house if there is a small family appearing in a big family. That house is called long house.
The characteristic of the minority’s houses in the Western Highland all have the only room. The floor is made of wood and has the staircase. Their house tends to have 2 staircases, one for men and the other for women.
All of the minority communities in the Western Highland have a Rong house in their village. ‘Rong’ House is the communal house used for the whole community. There is also a bigger and taller kind of Rong House than other Rong Houses in the village. Nowadays it is really hard to find an original ‘Rong’ house across the Western Highland area because almost of them have been destroyed. Today Rong House is just a kind of Rong House model.
The materials used for Rong House construction is from bamboo, woods in forests, alang grass. In the past, it often takes 2 to 3 years of preparation to build a build a Rong House. They need to come into the forest to collect some kinds of wood, chop them off and bring them home to make house’s pillar. Alang grass used to make house roof needs to be dried before using. Most Rong Houses have the shape of the hammer blade. But the Rong House of Ba Na people has the low floor and roof that is called the short Rong House in order to distinguish with other Rong House of Ja Rai people. Ja Rai’s Rong Houses are much taller. Their height can soar up to the sky (around 20m). If you have ever read the work called “the nation stands up” of Nguyen Ngoc writer, you can understand more about Ja Rai’s Rong House.
If you come to the Western Highland these days, the Rong House you can find is made of the cermet and their roof is made of tin.
One amazing thing is that most minority people live under a matriarchy yet the village head is men. Each village has 3 or 4 village heads. For example, the head of Rong House is supposed to focus on overseeing and maintaining the Rong House. Other village heads responsible for the water in village concentrate on overseeing and take the water into the village. The village in charge of culture and economics will make a decision on food, particularly beef, and entertainment during the festival. The village in charge of the economy will determine what plants village people will choose to grow in a certain season and so on.
The Rong House is where living activities of the whole village occurs. If there are any serious things happening, village people will have a discussion together at the Rong House. As a result, this house is considered the divine place of the Western Highland villages.
One amazing thing is that women are not allowed to set foot on the Rong House. Ba Na people these days still remain that custom. A few Ja Rai people’s villages have been destroyed. So women are allowed to come to the Rong House that village uses the Rong House as a church.
When it comes to women who are not allowed to come to the Rong House, when I come to the Western Highland for the first time, I follow some of my friends to Ba Na village. A few King women teachers that come with me don’t know this custom. Because they saw the Rong House for the first time, they are too excited to run straight away along the staircase. After setting their feet on the floor, they were arrested by village people. They did it because they suppose that women who come to the Rong House will touch the village ghost. Eventually, the authority here must involve in this in order to settle the problem down.
The Rong House of the Western Highland people is where village people have a meet and single young men can come to sleep. Any single village men have the age of 15 and up have to come to the Rong House for sleeping.
When mentioning the Western Highland culture, it is necessary to mention the Rong House and H’mo Roong Rau festival. This is a really important festival of village people here.