Some of the students CEF's Thuy Dinh is responsible for are from an ethnic community in a mountainous region of Phuoc Son not far from the Laos border. They have customs that we know nothing of unless they share them with us and as they do we are constantly learning from them which we love. Thuy shares this interesting story.
I am really into exploring new cultural and historical stories of the areas I visit. This is my third year working for CEF and I am responsible for working with mainly Gie Trieng ethnic minority girls in our scholarship program in mountainous areas of Phuoc Son district. I used to notice the woodpiles stacked neatly along walls of the local people’s stilt houses but I was never curious about that. Other CEF staff and I thought simply these bundles of wood were for their daily cooking, but it turned they were not for that use.
We did a survey trip in Phuoc Son district two weeks ago and I accidentally learned about the role of firewood and it’s connection to Gie Trieng marriage customs. It is really interesting to hear that on their wedding day, they may lack money or gold, but wood is a must for the brides. A local person shared that wood was the dowry, and a treasured symbol of love. In addition, he said: “It’s very cold living in the forest. We need the heat from a fire to survive. Therefore, wood is very important to us.”
Local women used to cut down the beech trees before there was the regulation of protecting the forest was established. While the wood is tough, it has a straight grain so it is not only easy to chop, but the wood also burns for a long time. When Gie Trieng women enter the age of marriage, it is time for them to take the wood from the forest. It takes them a long time and much effort. Gie Trieng women start to chop down the trees at the age of 15. Each must have 400 to 500 bundles of firewood to show off their skill and determination. The more firewood she has, the healthier and more hardworking she is considered.
Collecting the wood can take months or years. Men can tell how strong, industrious, and skilful the women are by observing how big the stacks are and how even the wood is chopped. They will make their marital decisions based on that. The presented wood is also the symbol of piety as the brides don’t only present it to the groom but also to her family-in-law on their wedding day. It is considered a valuable dowry that the groom’s family only uses on special occasions.