The Hre Ethnic Group in Vietnam

The Hre Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Lables: Ethnic Groups, Hre Ethnic Group, Mon-Khmer Group

Proper name: The Hre got their names from Local River. For example, "the Kre" came from the Kre river in Son Ha district; the Hre from Hre river in Ba To district; the Dinh from Dinh river in An Lao district, etc.

Other names: Cham Re, Chom, Thuong Ba To, Moi Luy, Moi Son Phong, Moi Da V.ach, Cham Quang Ngai, Moi Chom, Re, Man Thach Bich.

Population: 94,259 people.(1999 census).

Language: The Hre language belongs to the Mon-khmer language group (Austroasiatic language family). Before 1975, there was a writing system, modified from the Latin alpha¬bet. It was used widely, but now has diminished in popularity.

History: The Hre are among the oldest inhabitants of the Truong Son-Tay Nguyen area.

Production activities: A majority of the Hre grow rice in wet fields, while only a small minority work on dry terraced fields. They practice widen agriculture, using simple tools like the digging stick (to make holes in the ground for planting seeds), axe, machete, and rake. They harvest their rice by hand. Their cultivation style is like that of Central Vietnamese farmers, using water buffalo to pull a plough or harrow, sowing rice sprouts and then transplanting them, and using a sickle to harvest rice plants, etc. Nevertheless, the traditional slash and burn, or widen, practice can still be seen. Each family raises water buffaloes, dogs, and chickens. Plaiting and weaving is the only handicraft works, and are not so popular nowadays. In particular, there is very little weaving done today. Goods are traded directly for each other’s products. Hunting, gathering fruit, and fishing are important sources of foodstuffs for every family.

Diet: The Hre eat rice as daily food. On special occasions like holidays and festivals, sticky rice is also served. In addition to rice, other important foods are self-provided, as are salt with pepper. After each religious ritual, the sacrificed animal's meat is used for food as a treat. The spathe of an area tree is made into dishware, and they eat using their fingers. Popular Hre drinks are fresh water, green tea, and rice wine sipped through straws or tubes. Smoking tobacco and chewing betel nuts are popular habits.

Housing: The Hre live mainly in the mid-west of the country, in Quang Ngai province (Son Ha, Ba To, and Minh Long districts), and in Binh Dinh province. There are a few Hre communities also living in Kon Plong district of the Kon Turn province. They live in houses built on stilts, with three entrances: one at each end and one in the center. Two rows of columns support the cross beams which are ornamented with a pair of animal horns. The upper part of the walls lean outward. The wooden floor, located opposite the hearth, is slightly higher than the rest of the floor in order to create a comfortable posture when lying down, as the feet are lower than the head. In the village, houses are built on hillsides. Hre houses are constructed along slopes in such a way that they are prevented from being swept away by a stream's current. Clothing: Today, most of the Hre dress in casual clothes like other Vietnamese. However, some women still wear the long traditional skirt, though not exactly like the one in the olden days, which were made of cotton, had flower-patterned rows on each side, and had two layers. Traditionally, men wore loincloths, and wrapped scarves around their heads. When on a long trip, or during a holiday, they wore shirts. Woman wore the traditional skirt (mentioned above) with a shirt and a veil. Both sexes wear jewelry made from brass, silver, aluminum, and beads; the men do not wear earrings.

Transportation: The Hre carry baskets on their back, with one handle on each shoulder. There is the densely plaited one for rice, less-tightly plaited ones for cassava arid firewood. The men, while working in the forest or when lighting, carry a bag-like basket which has 3 separate parts. They also carry rice and other things with a shoulder pole, or on the top of their heads.

Social organization: The Hre village elder enjoys high respect and influence. In the past, Hre society was deeply divided between the rich and the poor, tending toward servitude. Most of the servants were those who could not pay their debt to the creditor, and thus become indentured servants. This phenomenon was more severe among the Hre than in any other Thuong ethnic groups. Together with servitude was the concentration of land in one person's hand, which also leads to the concentration of power in one person. Nevertheless, the village structure still displayed high communal traits.

Marriage: Where the newly wedded couple settles after the wedding depends on negotiations between the groom's and the bride's families. The majority will build their own houses after they have the first child. In the wedding, there is a bonding ritual for the bride and groom, in which they exchange a bowl of rice, betel nuts, or they could be tied together by one string, etc. A widow can marry her husband's brother, and a husband can marry the sister of his deceased wife. However, cousins or half-siblings can't marry each other.

Birth: A child is born right next to the hearth fire with the help of a midwife. The placenta is cut by a knife, and wrapped around the spate of an area tree and buried outside the house or in the forest. The mother rests for about a month, and has a diet that does not allow her to eat fish, egg, banana, chicken's white meat, etc. There is a ceremony to name the infant when he or she is one month old.

Funerals: Hre coffins look like wooden boats. The corpse is left at home for couple of days prior to burial at the village cemetery. The shape of a grave looks like a long little hill, with a tiny house on top of it. The deceased's private possessions are also buried with him, including food, household furniture, clothes, tools, etc.

Beliefs: The Hre have many religious rituals and taboos because of their belief in animism: there is a spirit in every single object, and man is controlled by other super- natural powers. Therefore, when the Hre are ill, in trouble, pregnant, having difficulties in giving births, during funerals, building new house, or during planting and harvesting time, or when eating the newly harvested rice for the first time, etc, there is always a ritual for each of these occasions. Each family does the worshiping privately. Only when praying for peace and health, the village will hold a communal ritual.

Festivals: The biggest festival is water buffalo sacrifice, whether it is done privately or communally. The Hre's New Year is in October, after the rice harvesting. However, many villages celebrate the Lunar New Year now. They pray for prosperity of water buffaloes and pigs on New Year. Also there is ancestor worshiping to ask good health for everyone in the family. The common New Year feast has sticky rice cake, wine, pork, etc. The village performs a communal ritual to pray for good weather.

Calendar: The Hre calendar is like that of the Vietnamese. There are bad days and good days in a month, and days that are good or not good to do specific things.

Artistic activities: Popular instruments include different kinds of gongs, drums, and instruments made from bamboo and calabash, as well as flute, two-string Chinese violin, etc. Women play hand-held bamboo sticks which are tapped together. The two most popular folksongs are Kaleu and Kachoi. Fairy tales (Hmon) are handed down from generation to generation as precious cultural possessions. There are a great variety of different themes in fairy tales. Rower and geometric patterns on textiles and weaving products are also very traditional.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen


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