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20 August 2019 / leggypeggy

Portraits capture costumes and history

The Lu

The Lu. She asked the photographer why he didn’t come when she was young and beautiful.

The Lu costume

I think she’s as beautiful as ever. What do you think?

Hoi An, on the east coast of central Vietnam, has changed dramatically since we first visited in 2011. The old town looks much the same, but the town itself has become so popular with tourists that the streets, shops and historic sites are overrun with people.

And then there’s the traffic—cars, vans, buses, motorbikes, scooters and push bikes. It’s not an easy place for pedestrians. I’m surprised we didn’t see a steady stream of ambulances carting accident victims off to hospital.

But we did manage to find a divine haven that allowed us to escape the heat (most days it was 38°C or 100°F) and the crowds.

Precious Heritage Museum, Hoi An, Vietname

Precious Heritage Museum

Two years ago, world famous photographer, Réhahn, established the Precious Heritage Museum as a way to permanently display his work done across Vietnam.

For eight years, Réhahn travelled from tribe to tribe, visiting and photographing 53 of the country’s officially 54 documented ethnic groups. He also found many subgroups. His goal was to capture the faces and the traditional costumes unique to each culture.

The museum displays 100 photographs and 62 traditional ensembles. Signage explains where each ethnic group is located within the country and how large the population is. One group has fewer than 400 members (2009 census) and the largest has almost 75 million. There are also stories about the costumes and the person shown in the portrait.

In many cases, Réhahn was given a costume by a group’s chief. Too often, the groups are down to one or very few traditional outfits.

Here are some summaries. Each group’s name is in the photo caption. My favourite is from the Lu. They are shown in the first photo and explained in the last entry below.

Meet the tribes
The Ha Nhi
The Ha Nhi number about 11,000 and are organised into two subgroups—the Black Ha Nhi and the Flower Ha Nhi. Réhahn met the former group, as well as a subgroup known as the Pink Ha Nhi. The Ha Nhi’s cotton, indigo costume takes up to six months to make.

The O Du
The O Du is Vietnam’s smallest ethnic group, with fewer than 400 members. Today they have only 5 original costumes left. Réhahn met Vi Thi Dung, the last woman making the traditional skirt. I’m guessing she is the person featured in the photo.

The Pu Peo
Réhahn had just 25 minutes in the Pu Peo village in northern Vietnam and near the Chinese border. He’s not sure why he was asked to leave so abruptly, but he managed to capture a quick photo of the oldest person in the village.

The Si La
The Si La keep their traditional costumes for special occasions. The silver coins are believed to bring good health and good luck. Réhahn was the first foreigner to visit the village in far northwest Vietnam. They came to Vietnam from the Philippines, via Laos.

The Pa Then costume, Vietnam

The portrait is of an 8-year-old from the Pa Then group

The Pa Then
Huong, the 8-year-old old Pa Then girl in the portrait, was delighted to dress up in her outfit. Some schools require children to wear the traditional costume every Monday. Today only two people still know how to weave the fabric to make the brightly coloured outfits.

The Lo Lo
This ethnic group is divided into three subgroups—Flower, Red and Black. The bottom photo on the left is the Black Lo Lo version, while the top is the Flower. Because it is covered with 4000 appliquéd triangles (photo on right), the Flower version is the most expensive at about US$1200.

The Phu La, Vietnam

The Phu La

The Phu La
The Phu La are reserved. Réhahn struggled to find someone willing to pose in a traditional costume, until he met the young girl (pictured) and her mother. While travelling, he also met the Xa Pho, a subgroup of the Phu La. He hopes to photograph them soon. 

The Flower H’Mong
The Flower H’Mong  is a subgroup of the H’Mong ethnic group and is named after their brightly-coloured traditional costumes (see above). These detailed garments take up to 6 months to make and are so precious that they are considered heirlooms.

The Cho Ro
Réhahn spent two days with the Cho Ro, who were puzzled as to why he was interested in their traditional clothing. In the end, the chief gifted Réhahn the village’s last costume and his wife offered to pose in it for him. These outfits are no longer made.

The Cor
This traditional costume was one of the hardest for Réhahn to find. He visited more than 20 villages before he came across the woman (pictured) who owned the last original version. The provincial government also holds several costumes for traditional festivals.

The Ro Man
The Ro Man live in a restricted area near the border with Cambodia. As a result, it took Réhahn three years to get permission to visit. He was given one of the village’s last 12 traditional costumes, along with a pipe and a basket.

The Cham, Vietnam

The Cham

The Cham
The Cham live in the south central coast, along the Mekong Delta. They are considered to be the root of Muslimism in Vietnam. The picture is one of Réhahn’s best known works. The girl has blue eyes, inherited from her French paternal great-grandfather.

The Co Tu, bark costume, Vietnam

The Co Tu


The Co Tu
For centuries, the Co Tu wore costumes made out of tree bark. They used five types of bark with solid fibres. These were beaten and then soaked in a mixture of water and spices for about 10 days. The museum holds the only known one in existence.

The Chu Ru

The Chu Ru

The Chu Ru
The Chu Ru is said to have links to the Cham group. They are also known for making good rice wine and wine jars. I was surprised by how similar their outfits are to the Indian sari. Réhahn was given a costume, as well as a ring and a musical instrument.

The Ede, Vietnam

The Ede


The Ede
It took Réhahn several visits to the Ede before he managed to see and secure an original costume. In this case,  he found a male outfit. The bright red frontispiece was traditionally reserved for those of high social ranking. Today it is wore for festivals.

The White and Black Thai
There are some obvious differences between the White and Black Thai—starting with colour (see below). This group is large, with more than 1.5 million people. It has good relations and connections with the O’Du group, which is introduced above.

The Lu
Without doubt, this is my favourite portrait (shown at the very top). The subject, 93-year-old Lo Van Bau, told Réhahn, ‘Why didn’t you come when I was still young and beautiful?’ I think she’s still as beautiful as anyone can ever be. What do you think?

Love these images
I hope you like these images as much as I do. This is one of the most remarkable and most rewarding museums we have ever visited. We bought one of Réhahn’s books. If you want to know more, please visit his home page.

White and Black Thai costumes

White and Black Thai costumes (see explanation above)


Leave a Comment
  1. Superduque / Aug 20 2019 10:56 pm

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nice post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. IreneDesign2011 / Aug 21 2019 12:10 am

    Beautiful costumes and interesting story, Peggy 🙂
    We are having about same temperatures here and it is hot. We have been passing the 40-43 C. some days too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:25 am

      Oh yikes. Hope you have a way to stay cool-ish.

      Liked by 1 person

      • IreneDesign2011 / Aug 21 2019 4:33 pm

        Thank you. I do my best. This night we had some rain, which should continue some hours yet. Last time was in the Spring.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 10:19 pm

        Oh wow, so glad you are getting some rain. We are in drought and need rain desperately. I’m a little jealous that you are getting some.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Robert Parker / Aug 21 2019 12:29 am

    Very interesting post. Very appealing aesthetically, and, when we appreciate that fabric and clothing serve as a kind of “language,” and part of ethnic identity, it’s a really interesting part of anthropology, what a fascinating museum.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:27 am

      Love your description. Clothing really is a kind of ‘language’.


  5. susan@onesmallwalk / Aug 21 2019 12:36 am

    LeggyPeggy – Don’t you just love traditional dress? I am very sad at this moment that I have nothing similar. Thanks for the photo journey – Susan

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:28 am

      You are most welcome. I have a few pieces of traditional clothing from when we lived in Burma/Myanmar.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. beetleypete / Aug 21 2019 12:38 am

    Lovely photos, and great to see the traditional outfits too. He is doing a good job of preserving that tribal identity for the future.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:29 am

      Réhahn has done an amazing job. He’s still trying to get to that 54th ethic group, as well as many of the subgroups he has identified. So glad we bought one of his books.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Milly / Aug 21 2019 2:32 am

    Looks like a really unique and interesting museum. Wish we were there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:29 am

      We plan on returning and maybe we can lure you along with us then.


  8. forwardtogloryquartet / Aug 21 2019 2:35 am

    Simply stunning, Peggy. Heritage wonderfully presented!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:30 am

      And to think that admission is free. We bought one of his books as a way to say thank you.


  9. Christie / Aug 21 2019 2:54 am

    Such a great job from Réhahn to gather and put together all these traditional outfits! Thank you for sharing with us, lovely photos!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:31 am

      So far he has sent eight years taking the portraits and gathering clothing for this museum. So glad he was inspired to create the collection.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Cynthia Wright-Dellanave / Aug 21 2019 5:08 am

    What an extraordinary post – I worked with wonderful Vietnamese students in the US for many years – this brought back splendid memories. Great educational post. Thank

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:34 am

      You are most welcome. Glad the post brought back splendid memories.


  11. fragglerocking / Aug 21 2019 5:59 am

    Great post! What an amazing thing to do, and sad that a lot of the culture is dying out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:35 am

      Very sad that the young people don’t recognise the value of continuing to make the outfits. I thought it was great that the Pa Then tribe makes the children wear the outfit to school once a week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fragglerocking / Aug 21 2019 8:47 am

        Things change that we wish didn’t, but I suppose the young people just want to be in the now, and not the then, as I did when I was young!

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:53 am

        Oh yes, change is beyond our control.


  12. Phil Huston / Aug 21 2019 6:00 am

    I was going to make one of my usual how similar yet dissimilar the costumes are. The more staid, the colorful, the difference between “warrior” tribes and the more settled, much the same as we see across the Americas and from Alaska to Australia. It would be, probably was most interesting to see the costumes relative to location and climate. But my big takeaway here was NOT going all childish and making a big thing out of a tribe calling themselves the Pink Hiney.

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:37 am

      I’m glad your comments usually arrive during my nighttime so that I can start my day with a good laugh. Thanks.


  13. Lisa Dorenfest / Aug 21 2019 8:02 am

    I adore Réhahn’s work and had the good fortune of seeing it on display in Hanoi. He is truly an inspiration for me and it is a pleasure to see his work so beautifully covered in this post. Definitely worth a share!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 8:38 am

      Oh wow, I’m delighted to know that you have seen his work; and in Hanoi!. I hope Australia’s national gallery will try to make it a visiting exhibit.


  14. Lynette d'Arty-Cross / Aug 21 2019 11:15 am

    What wonderful cultural pieces. A great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Alison and Don / Aug 21 2019 12:28 pm

    I would have loved this place Peggy. I’m always fascinated and delighted by authentic ethnic clothing. In Luang Prabang we went to a fashion show of traditional outfits – the owner of a restaurant there had collected them and then hired “models” from the local population, training them how to show off the clothing in a perfectly choreographed dance.
    Too bad WP was in a mood – but I got the gist anyway. Just gorgeous.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 1:53 pm

      Come back if you have the chance. I conquered WordPress today. Add more pics too. Love your fashion parade.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alison and Don / Aug 21 2019 2:22 pm

        Came back for another look – I just love the fabrics and designs (except the bark one lol, not sure I’d want to wear that) and the gorgeous embroidery. We went to a Flower Hmong market in Bac Ha, and also Black Hmong villages near Sapa in northern Vietnam. Traditional clothing is commonly worn by the women in both places tho we only saw a couple of guys in each group wearing traditional clothing.

        Liked by 2 people

      • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 3:34 pm

        I can’t say that we saw any traditional clothing being worn on this visit, but we weren’t able to travel too remotely this time.


  16. Julie Manley / Aug 21 2019 1:10 pm

    The NGA doing an exhibition would be very interesting. These traditional clothes are surprisingly similar (or maybe no so surprising given the region) to the ones we saw in Sabah, Borneo. It bothers me that traditional crafts and knowledge are rapidly being lost.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 21 2019 1:56 pm

      It bothers me too, Julie. If only the young understood how important this kind of knowledge is.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Brian Lageose / Aug 21 2019 3:59 pm

    As usual, you have presented us with another terrific window into other cultures. That opening shot of The Lu? Stunning and gorgeous. The joy of life in her face…

    Liked by 2 people

  18. The Year I Touched My Toes / Aug 21 2019 4:36 pm

    Oh Peggy thank you for this post. What a great exhibition. It is sad to read of all the dying crafts involved in making the different costumes and that there are so few costumes left in some areas. No doubt their languages are dying too. Rehahn photos are beautiful. I hope all the works can be preserved. Of course all in beautiful Hoi An, a very appropriate place. Louise

    Liked by 2 people

  19. a mindful traveler / Aug 21 2019 5:28 pm

    I agree with you in regards to the abundance of tourists in Hoi An Peggy. This museum is such an educational experience for all, wish I had known about it before. Next visit 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  20. vinneve / Aug 22 2019 1:32 pm

    Interesting! some of the tribal clothes are similar to Philippines native clothes as well. I always think that somehow all Asian nations are interconnected in some ways, be it with migration or trades.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. gerard oosterman / Aug 22 2019 4:24 pm

    What a beautiful show of clothing and costumes.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Dave Ply / Aug 23 2019 2:17 am

    It’s good someone is making a cultural record. It seems like all too often this sort of thing gets suppressed or simply dies out. Too bad the art of making some of these outfits looks to be disappearing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 23 2019 8:44 am

      I agree Dave. It’s so good that Réhahn has made the effort to collect and display these pieces. A little bit of history and culture that won’t be lost.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Gilda Baxter / Aug 23 2019 4:33 am

    It looks like a lot of work goes into making this amazing ethnic clothes and it pays off, they are beautiful. It is great to see it collected and showed in a such a beautiful exhibition with all the history behind. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 23 2019 8:45 am

      You are most welcome. It’s probably the best museum we visited in Vietnam. Mostly because the collection is not something you routinely think of.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Forestwood / Aug 23 2019 8:33 pm

    I read 38 degrees and ran for cover. Is it ever cool-ish over that way?

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Curt Mekemson / Aug 24 2019 5:26 am

    Wow, that is impressive Peggy. Great photography combined with costumes. In ways, just like a museum exhibit I just visited in Reno that featured Georgia O’Keefe. It an historical study that included photographic portraits of her throughout her life, the clothes she wore and her art. I am going to do a post on it. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 24 2019 8:26 am

      Look forward to seeing your post on Georgie O’Keefe.


      • Curt Mekemson / Aug 27 2019 7:24 am

        I loved the exhibit, Peggy. Hopefully, I can capture a bit of its unique nature.

        Liked by 2 people

  26. Chris Riley / Aug 24 2019 8:38 am

    An interesting insight into the different groups and cultures that exist in Vietnam. Yes, she is definitely gorgeous. There is an amazing amount of character and beauty in wrinkles. – makes me wonder why we all do our utmost to keep wrinkles at bay.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Brenda / Aug 24 2019 9:02 pm

    What spectacular weaving and color. Let’s hope the weaving knowledge doesn’t die out altogether.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 24 2019 9:37 pm

      So glad some of the cultures are keeping the craft alive.


  28. macalder02 / Aug 30 2019 12:55 pm

    Time without reading your blog, but I’ll catch up with those incomparable trips. The samples of that culture are surprising although sad, as you say, about to disappear. With you we learn to appreciate the unknown and it fills us with culture. A great article. .Greetings

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Sharon Bonin-Pratt / Aug 30 2019 5:45 pm

    I just wrote a very long comment praising this incredible post and the work of Rehahn but your blog refused to post it and the whole thing got lost. I won’t try to rewrite the whole thing but I want to thank you for these photos of this incredible exhibit. What a pleasure to view the people and their handiwork.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 30 2019 6:25 pm

      Thank you so much Sharon. I’ve been having a lot of trouble with WordPress today and you may have been a victim of my aggravation. So glad you liked the post.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Green Global Trek / Aug 30 2019 7:08 pm

    Thanks for telling us about this place, we will for sure be going there next week when my sister is here visiting. The outfits and costumes do remind me of a similar museum we visited in Luang Prabang in Laos.

    It was a pleasure to meet you both here and share some Ban Xeo in the organic gardens together.


    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 30 2019 10:41 pm

      Hope you enjoy the museum as much as we did. Enjoy having your sister visit. We had such a great time meeting you and Ben. May it happen again sometime soon.


  31. jeanleesworld / Aug 31 2019 7:00 am

    I just cannot fathom the process of creating costumes out of tree bark. Lovely to see they’re all preserved here!

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Aug 31 2019 8:06 am

      I know what you mean about the bark costume, Jean. The process takes many days and many steps. Makes you wonder who figured it out!


  32. mliae / Sep 11 2019 4:56 pm

    Hello Peggy 🙂 I have been trying to find your contact pages. Is there any way to contact / email you?

    Liked by 2 people

  33. trkingmomoe / Sep 15 2019 11:25 pm

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. tony / Sep 23 2019 4:56 pm

    Really interesting Peggy! Makes me want to go back to Hoi An. As you know I have close Akha friends in Chiang Mai and a long term interest in the hill tribes of SE Asia their costumes and culture.

    I loved the diversity of people in Sapa on my only trip to Vietnam in 2008 and have fond memories of visiting Akha and Mon in Laos on the border of China in 2002 who were still pursuing their culture relatively undisturbed. I saw the last of this in Thailand in the early 1990s though remnants still exist. Phennapha and Phing Phing have often invited me to visit their village but they rarely go there and I’m never around at the right time.

    Your article brought back many good memories!


    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Sep 23 2019 7:45 pm

      So glad you enjoyed this post and that it brought back good memories. I hope you make it to Hoi An but, in the meantime, I’m happy to loan you the book we bought.


  35. readyscribepublications / Nov 7 2019 2:46 pm

    The photography is absolutely exquisite in taste. They reveal the people of that enchanted land in such a that it unveils their natural beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Nov 7 2019 6:24 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. You are right about their people’s natural beauty.


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