Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Cemetery

(PICTURE: This is a Gia Rai cemetery, not a village.)

It took us a little while to find the ethnic village because it was down a dirt road and everyone we asked pointed us in a different direction. As soon as we rolled into the village, we met two women. We asked the women if we could drive around and they seemed pretty confused. Vietnamese isn't their native tongue but we did understand is that we were talking in front of the house of the village elder. We looked over at the village elder who was sitting on a porch with a bunch of dudes who were all drinking rice wine.

(PICTURE: This carving means a married couple is buried in this shelter...with about thirty of their other relatives.)

I know that we're supposed to ask permission from the village elder before going anywhere but we decided that we'd just take a peak around the corner to see if there was anything worth bothering the guy about while he was drinking. So we drove about 100 yards and came upon a very very very creepy cemetery. Immediately I recalled reading about this type of cemetery where they carve wooden human figures in front of mass graves. Huyen and I both looked at each other simultaneously and said, "Lets go ask permission to be here."

(PICTURE: The town elder in the middle.)

We rode back to the elder's house and Huyen asked if we could look around. The elder was confused why we were there and went and fetched a piece of paper from his house. The paper was a permit from a past foreigner who had come to the village. The elder explained that we could get in trouble with the police for being there without a permit. This was not surprising news as it specifically says in Lonely Planet that Pleiku is the hardest place to visit minority tribes for this very reason. However, with a little sweet talking, we paid the elder and he agreed to show us around.

He took us back to the cemetery and explained the process of burying people. To be buried in a shelter, you need to ask permission long before you die. The people buried are buried pretty shallow; I think just about a three feet or so under the ground. Each person who is buried there has their own wine jug. You can tell how many people are buried in a shelter by the amount of jugs:

(PICTURE: This grave had over forty people in it.)

When we finished the tour, the elder invited us for a drink. And yup, things got weirder...