(Published in ‘The Hindu’ dated 17 May 2018)
War, women and a way of life
(A N Suryanarayanan)
Three of the 52 museums in Vietnam give a moving account of a nation marked by conflict
Vietnam with its 54 ethnic groups, many languages, and physio-graphical differences has 52 museums chartering its history. As a veteran, I choose three that best describe its history of war and society.
War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City (open all days from 7.30 am to 5 pm) The museum, formerly known as Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes, has themed rooms and houses equipment from their wars. There are grisly reminders of the atrocities by the US on Vietnam. One learns of the 40 million litres of Agent Orange and napalm sprayed over forests in South Vietnam in 1962-1971 to expose and enfeeble the militia and agricultural lands. This caused disabilities, cancer, birth defects and more to a million people over three generations. There is a picture of the sewer where a man hid his three grandchildren who were discovered and butchered by a US Navy Seal. The iconic photograph of nine-year-old Kim Phuc running naked after an aerial napalm attack on June 8, 1972, is also displayed there. There has been criticism about the museum depicting only a Vietnamese interpretation of the conflict.
Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi (open 8.30 am to 5.30 pm, closed on Monday). This museum depicts the diversity of the country through a display of clothes, jewellery and other ritualistic items. A striking display is a street vendor’s bicycle, loaded with 800 wooden and bamboo items. A new building is under construction and will house a Southeast Asian handicraft collection. The outdoor displays include tribal art and everyday objects, besides full-scale models of traditional village homes that have high roofs and nail-less bamboo floors. There is water puppetry that originated in the 11th Century as symbolic entertainment of the harvest for the villagers during flooding. A waist-deep square pool is the performance arena. Eight puppeteers behind a split-bamboo screen resembling a temple façade control the puppets. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music with vocals of chèo (a satirical musical with dance) and instruments.
Vietnamese Women’s Museum, Hanoi , (open all days 8 am to 5 pm) showcases the role of women in Vietnamese society and culture. Outstanding Vietnamese women who have contributed to culture are also mentioned. Displays are in three sections: Women in Familyhas a profusion of cultural dresses, textiles and jewellery relating to births, marriages and other rituals. One learnt that a bride carries 13 items in three, five or seven boxes to the mother-in-law and that the betel nut is mandatory on all auspicious occasions. Women in History covers harrowing accounts of heroic mothers during wartime. A room full of photographs is dedicated to women who lost their family in the wars. Women’s Fashion has earrings, bracelets and jewellery of various types and skilfully crafted clothing, including batik and woven garments.
Kim Phuc running naked after a Napalm attack on 08 Jun 1972
The Sewer in Thong Phong Village, where Mr Vat's 3 grandchildren were butchered
Stage for an Indoor Water Puppet Show
Water puppets and Musical Instruments