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The Ede/Rhade People of Vietnam
The Ede people, also called the Rhade people, are a group of ethnic minorities in Vietnam. The indigenous community is primarily located in the Central Highlands of the country, particularly in provinces of Dak Lak, Khanh Hoa, Phu Yen and Gia Lai. The Ede or Rhade language is a part of the Chamic language group, a subgroup of MalayoPolynesian languages in the Austronesian family. The Ede/Rhade people uphold unique laws, customs, values and beliefs that are passed on through generations by the leaders of the group to ensure the long-lasting life of the community.
THE EDE AS AN ETHNIC MINORITY GROUP
With a growing population of over 390,000, as most recently recorded in 2019, the Ede people are the largest ethnic minority group of Vietnam. There are various local groups of the Ede, including Kpa, Adham, Krung, Mdhur, Ktul, Dlie, Hrue, Bih, Blo, Korao, Dong kay, Dong mak, Ening, Arul, Hwing, with Ede Kpa being widely considered the most representative of the ethnic minority group.
Dating back to thousands and thousands of years ago, the culture of the Ede people is heavily influenced by Vietnam’s neighbour Cambodia, and the ancient Kingdom of Chamba that now represents central and southern Vietnam. Music plays an important part of Ede cultural heritage. Diverse instruments such as gongs, flutes and unique string instruments are used to create music to communicate messages, whether it is to people or to yang (the Ede word for God). The Rhade people are also notorious for their long-standing folk art, literature and clothing (Frank M. Lebar, Gerald C. Hickey, John K. Musgrave, 1964).
Traditionally, Ede villages are located on high ground and close to water sources such as the Donnai and Srepok rivers. In these villages, the Ede people inhabit longhouses built out of wood and bamboo. In order to allow for both functional cooking areas and gardens, and to act as a safety precaution against fires, the Ede people prefer to leave ample spaces between their houses (Frank M. Lebar, Gerald C. Hickey, John K. Musgrave, 1964).
LAWS AND TRADITIONS
In Ede tradition, women are the leaders. The Rhade people make up one of the very few societies in the world to practice matrilineal descent, a societal structure in which kinship is traced through the female line. Women inherit and own family properties such as the houses they live in, the fields they cultivate, the cattles they raise, and the utensils they use in everyday life. The female elders of the community are in charge of settling disputes between villagers, and ensuring that laws are respected. These customs and traditions are passed down from generation to generation. As a result of the matrilineal system, women in the ethnic minority group generally start a family while they are still quite young. Families are then led typically by the eldest woman of the highest position in the family, who is referred to as “khoa sang.” (Ngo Duc Thinh, 2000)
Agriculture is an important practice for the Ede people and their traditional economy. The Ede people are particularly known for the cultivation of upland rice in swiddens. Practicing slash-and-burn agriculture and shifting agriculture, the Ede people have to clear patches of land completely cleared by cutting and burning the vegetation so that they can create a new field, a swidden, and cultive crops. After a few years, the Ede people move to cultive a new patch of land. However, the Ede people strictly forbid the destruction of any kind of forest as it may lead to soil erosion. Animals such as cattles and chickens are raised, while elephants are sometimes tamed.The Ede people also partake in handicrafts, basketry, and weaving. Both men and women contribute to essential agricultural activities. In March comes the annual planting of a field, a ritual which the entire Ede population typically participates in (Frank M. LeBar).
The modernization and socioeconomic transformations of Vietnam in recent years has caused challenges for the Ede people to preserve their culture and language. Although there has been efforts to teach the Ede language in schools, children in the ethnic minority group nonetheless have to learn Vietnam’s official language, Vietnamese. Due to significant ethnic disparities in education in Vietnam, the Ede people do not have the same access to education that ethnic majorities do. (Quang Thanh Trieu, 2018)
Education charities can play a role in improving learning conditions for ethnic minority groups. The French branch of Children of the Mekong, Enfants du Mékong, has a sponsorship program for Southeast Asian ethnic minority groups which includes the Ede people. While Children of the Mekong works on offering this sponsorship program as well, this page here contains information about the project and how we can help improve the Rhade people’s access to education. The sponsorship program offers a boarding house system, in the likes of a small boarding school, for children of ethnic minority groups to gain the necessary experience to then enter and feel comfortable in state schools.
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