A few years ago, Co Tu villagers in Nam Giang District could not
imagine that their community’s daily activities could bring them a significant
income source. By sharing their rice preparation, rattan knitting, cooking,
singing and dancing with tourists, they make money while preserving traditions.
Hong Minh reports.
On a two-hour bus trip from Da Nang City to the central province of Quang Nam’s
Nam Giang District, I tried to learn a few common words of the ethnic Co Tu
language: K’ro ka? (How are you?), Iem (tasty), and Liem (beautiful).
Passing through green fields and forests along National Highway 14B to reach
Parong Village in Ta Bhing Commune, we were told that the Co Tu people
appreciate it when visitors to the village can speak the local language.
The village is getting more visitors these days: It was the first stop of our
trip to experience community-based tourism here, where a new project aims to
improve local quality of life while giving travellers the chance to experience
daily activities such as pounding rice, chopping firewood, and knitting rattan
As the bus stopped at the village gate, a group of villagers in traditional
costumes rushed to say hello and clapped their hands cheerfully to welcome us.
The salutation K’ro ka was exchanged as if we were relatives being welcomed back
The Co Tu in Nam Giang continue to struggle to make a comfortable living and
provide for their families. Nguyen Van Phi, deputy head of the district’s
culture section, said around 68 per cent of the population was still poor in
The community-based tourism project aims to change that.
The project dates back to 2012. That year, the Japanese non-governmental
organisation Foundation for International Development/Relief (FIDR) tried to
help restore Co Tu traditional brocade weaving under a project funded by the
Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA). They found out that only eight
women in Ta Bhing Commune knew how to make brocades.
With assistance from FIDR, Zo Ra Village has set up a traditional brocade
weaving co-operative, with 40 members.
To help the products of Co Tu weavers reach customers, in 2015 a community-based
tourism co-operative was set up in Ta Bhing Commune with the participation of
A community-based tourism project has been implemented in all seven villages of
the commune, with technical training from FIDR and sponsorship from JICA,
Briu Thuong, director of the co-operative, said that the organisation
distributes tasks and income across the villages, ensuring benefits for all.
“The community-based tourism in Ta Bhing commune is very unique,” Thuong said.
According to Thuong, community-based tourism of the Co Tu followed the basis of
takaramono sagashi, or hunting for treasures, one of the methods used in
participatory community development in Japan. Accordingly, the co-operative will
research, explore and commercialise tourism products of the local area, such as
restoring traditional dishes, weaving techniques and folk dance.
“Joining in tourism has gradually brought significant benefits for the Co Tu,”
Thuong said. “Young people want to learn more about the national culture, old
people want to teach traditional culture to the younger generation. Co Tu
elderly people are treasures as they know a lot about traditional customs and
habits that need to be researched and promoted.”
Seven villages, seven traditions
What does all of this mean for visitors, for locals and for interactions between
the two groups? I wanted to find out, so I joined a trip to visit the villages.
At our first stop in Parong Village, women showed us how to pound rice and chop
firewood, which seemed to be simple but turned out to be very difficult, and an
unusual tourism experience.
Village chief Zuong Noonh, though in his 70s, can weave water-bottle keepers
very fast. He said each product can be sold to tourists seeking an easier way to
carry their water bottles. He sells them for VND50,000 each, or some VND2
million in total a month, which has helped him to increase the family income
beyond what they can make from field work.
At noon, we visited Pa La Village which is in charge of culinary culture. Local
dishes were prepared and served at the village’s communal Gươl house, the long
house on stilts in the middle of the Co Tu Village that serves as a meeting
place and site of cultural activities for the rest of the village.
Inside the typical Gươl house of the Co Tu people, characterised by wooden
columns and walls decorated with carved figures such as birds, mammals, fishes
and leaves, we enjoyed the well-cooked and tasty dishes of the forest.
These included com lam (sticky rice grilled inside a bamboo tube), grilled pork
with forest herbs, chicken cooked with eggplant, zo ra (local salty dishes made
from meat, frogs, birds, fish, mixed with bamboo shoots and spices and then put
on bamboo tube to grill) and banh sung trau (buffalo horn-shaped steamed rice
cake). The head of the culinary group and other guides sat with us and
introduced us to each dish.
Our next stop was at Zo Ra Brocade Weaving Village where we learned about the 12
unique weaving steps of the Co Tu people, the history of brocade weaving, woven
geometric patterns and how to put beads into the brocade. We also got the chance
to try the weaving on our own.
The day ended with the cheerful and colourful Tung tung za za dance of young
dancers in traditional costumes to the rhythm of the gong in front of the Gươl
house in Pa Xua Village. The dance is always performed at the locals’ big
festivals to express their gratitude to the gods.
Last year, the income from tourism was more than VND900 million (US$40,000)
including sales of hand-made products. Of this, 70 per cent was distributed to
people in villages participating in providing services.
“Such income might be modest but the more important thing is that local Co Tu
people can enjoy their work, appreciate their value and gradually find their own
treasures from their daily life such as cooking, eating, dancing and knitting,”
Thuong said that each month the co-operative receives only three to four tourist
groups, both to ensure the quality of the tour and to preserve the ethnic
customs for long-term development.
"The objective of the project is to provide support to the local people who know
how to serve tourists,” Nobuko Otsuky, FIDR’s representative in Vietnam, said.
“I am very pleased with the progress of the local guides as well as the
initiative of the authority and the people.”
“Although the project is only half complete, I believe that the locality will be
self-sufficient when exploiting tourism activities. This is a matter of
livelihood of the people and if maintained well will be a solution for