Last Saturday afternoon, I asked some of my friends and their children (two boys and a little girl) to come to Vietnam museum of ethnology. We had a great afternoon. The children loved to play there.
First, these children liked to run around until they saw the longhouse – the traditional house of Ede ethnic. From that time, they seemed to be attracted by the house and could not wait to step into the incredible house. And I must tell you that they spent most of time to discover the house. Well, that is no surprise to me because I have come to this museum for many times and still love to walk into the house, look at all wooden and bamboo furniture which is made by hands.
From the main entrance of the house
A traditional house of Ede ethnic, who live in high plateau region of central Vietnam, is usually very long that is why it is called longhouse. In such house, there were usually 8-12 families live together: “the house accommodated families of daughters and granddaughters who were the descendents of one mother”. The house is lengthened whenever a daughter gets married. In Ede society, after marriage, the man comes to live in his wife’s house and has to listen to her rules.
From the minor entrance of the house
According to the museum:
“This house is 42,5m long and 6m wide. The floor is 1,1m off the ground. It is modeled after the longhouse of Ms. H’Đach Êban which had been constructed in Kỳ village, ward Thành Nhất, in the city of Buôn Ma Thuột.” The house was made by wood, bamboo and reed. Top of the roof is about 4-5m off the floor.
This wasn’t the longest house of Ede. I heard that in the past, some houses was even over 200m long. The richer, more powerful a family was, the longer the house was.
The house has two entrances: The main entrance of the house faced the north (every house in an Ede village has to obey this rule) and the minor entrance faced the south. At each entrance is a spacious courtyard. The richer the owner is, the wider and more beautiful the main courtyard is.
The main wooden courtyard
To get into the house, people have to step on staircase and walk on the courtyard. There are two kinds of staircases: The male staircase and the female staircase. The female staircase is decorated by a new moon and two female breasts. The new moon is the symbol of the faithfulness. The breasts are symbols of powerful of female in Ede families. People said that the two breasts on the staircase used to cost two or three days of a good craftsman to make because they have to be carved exactly the same.
Male and Female staircase – photo by Willettsworld
The female staircase is used only for the grandmother, the mother, daughter in the family and guests. The male staircase is usually smaller, without decorates. It is use for men. In the past, if a man in the family (the husband, a grew up son) steps on the female staircase, he would get punished by the village that he had to give money or something the village ask for, and had to prepare pig or chicken to offer the god of the staircase. Nowadays, the punishment no longer exists but Ede people still follow the rule of using staircase.
In front of the main entrance people put two staircases (a male and a female). They also put a male staircase in front of the minor courtyard, women in the house usually step on it to go to work.
The number of stair is usually always an odd number, usually five or seven – they believe that even numbers are number of devils. If you come to a longhouse and see the female staircase up-side-down, the family must get something bad and they do not want to have guests at that time.
The two staircases in front of the house are really challenges for our little friends. They wanted to win them and felt unsure about them at the same time. I told the boys (one is 6 and one is 8 years old) about the male staircase and guided them to step up. They really excited. After some seconds looking at it, the older stepped up slowly. Finally, he got to the courtyard and said that it was not too hard to do. He kept going up and down for times before he decided to explore inside the house. The younger boy was the first one who asked me to come to “discover” the house but he seemed to be much worry about the staircase. I had to stand next to the staircase, gave him a hand to support. Finally, he stepped on the courtyard with big smile – the smile of a winner. However, after study inside the house, he seemed to forget how to won the staircase so he said that he could not walked down by himself. The older one support him by went up and down for many times to make sure that it was very easy. Finally, when I agreed to stand next to the stair, encouraged him, he slowly stepped down. When he got on to the ground, the big smile showed up again. This time, he wanted to make sure that he would not feel scare of the staircase again, he went up and down for three more times, hihi. He is so cute, isn’t he? When we playing there, there were many tourist, Vietnamese and foreigners. Many of them stopped and encouraged the boy.
The little girl (3 years old) really loved playing with the female staircase. She stepped up (we had to give her hands to make sure she would not fall down – it is rather high for her), walked on the yard, went into the house and then, went out, stepped down. And a new turn started. After about 10 times, both her mother and I felt dizzy already but the girl was still so excited and shouted: “One more time, mom! One more time, auntie Mit!” Oh my!
Finally, her mom asked her to come to see anther house and she saw some beautiful girls in áo dài (Vietnamese traditional dress) posing on the ground so she decided to leave the longhouse.
Mothers of the two princes were so tired after walking and they wanted to sit down and chatted so I was the one who was escorted by two princes to discover the house. We took off our shoes, went barefoot on the bamboo floor. Well, it is so great to walk barefoot on the bamboo flat floor, feel the cool of bamboo skin gave to you. I love that feeling since I was a kid, walking on the bamboo floor of my family’s friends’ house. The boys seemed to notice the sound of flat bamboo when they walk much more than the feeling I told you, haha, they laughed a lot and said that the floor complain that they were too heavy, “but it tells me that it still can handle, auntie!” – one supported me.
A quick look inside the house – photo by Willettsworld
I told the boys that if they wanted to know something, they had to ask me or other people, or looked for information written on some boards. That was how I got them busy, hihi. They found out the name of the house which was written on a board next to the main entrance. They asked names of many things in the house, counted how many of this and that. It was so funny to see the two detectives working that way. They also tried to find out what is different between the sound of cồng and chiêng – two kinds of gong.
Yep, and here is other some other information I got for you about the house: The house is divided into two sections: Gah and Ôk. Gak is like the living room, where they welcome their guests, make offering to Giàng (their god), and the sleeping place for bachelors and married man who, for some reasons, has to returned to his mother or his sisters’ house. This is also used as the meeting hall for the whole family, a place for them to discuss important things, to eat, to play music.
It has craved pillar and beams which were decorated by image of many kinds of animal: turtle, elephant, crocodile, crab… It also has many precious things which show the rich and the power of the family, such as chair of the owner of the house – reserved the head of the family when they have a meeting– gongs, female drum (big drum), ceramic pots of traditional wine… One of the most impressed things in Gah is K’pan – the long bench or sacred bench. It is 10-20m long. It is reserved for the elderly of the village, guests and musicians. People usually put gongs under the long bench.
The owner’s house pillar and her seat
The rest of the house is the Ôk, which are sleeping places of each couple in the house and their fire places. These bedrooms are separated by bamboo wall. When sleeping in the house, people keep their feet pointing west.
The two boys even tried to lied down on the floor like an Ede person and said that they would sleeping there if we could make sure that it would not be too cold in the night. Leaving the longhouse as two winners, they started to study around, looking for other interesting things. When we left the museum, they said that they wanted to come back again the following day.
Bamboo floor – tied by rattan
More photos: here
At the first time I visited the museum, about 7 years ago, I saw a bigger female staircase. I tried to find out what happened to it and knew that it was ruined (because of time, the weather, and of course us – visitors who have stepped on it day by day) and they had to make a new one (the smaller one as you saw in my picture). So, I put a picture of the original female staircase here for you 🙂 As you can see, in this pictures it had already been broken a bit.
I also added a picture to show you how it looks like inside the Gah/living room.
The two pictures were taken by Willettsworld