The Long March: On the Margins of Global Trade: Identity Construction, Cultural Change and the Vietnamese Katu's March toward Modernity
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This study from Vietnam’s Northern Central Highlands and Nam Dong District follows the march throughout time of high mountain dwellers and expert walkers – the Katu ethnic minority group of people. The march described focuses on the Katu encounter with modernity from four perspectives. It explains the marathon march of formation of Katu identity and answers the disputed question of Katu indigenousness with regard to their territory. Their march with the Northern government’s army towards modernity illustrates why the Katu supported the revolution; joined the army and settled in a modernised fashion by end of war. The meeting with a people of socially marching happy barterers gives ideas of why traditional Katu values bring along hardship in the meeting with trade and liberal free market forces and the absence of entrepreneurship within the Katu. Perspectives from their continued march across a rough landscape towards modernity accesses three selected aspects of development processes. This being the neglect of their mother language in primary school, the general urban content of scholarly education that forgets the need for knowledge and skills for subsistence agriculturalists and the degrading system of UN initiated monitoring of poverty. It is a challenge to study the history of a people without a written language and with artifacts made only from organic material. Recently published historical, ethnographic and linguistic scientific materials, along with my own fieldwork have, however, recognised Katu indigenousness. Language similarities with all neighbouring groups such as the Cham, Bahnar, Katuic and Vietic languages indicate millennia of contact. The study recognizes their close ancestral neighbours within the globally trading Sa Huynh and Champa cultures. The myth of Katu isolation was turned into actual isolation by the arrival of modernity. The paternalist myth of a backwards people in need of development became and image of one of the strongest and longest lasting Vietnamese autonomous village cultures with a strategy of willed social change for modernity. The Katu people still march their thorny way towards modernity. It remains to be seen whether their leaders will continue to ‘show the way’ towards complete assimilation and become like ‘the other’, or whether their renewed status as ‘indigenous’ will open up more ‘options for choice’ - to the best for society at large … and continued Katu ‘happy life’?