Cao Lao Ha – The depth of culture of a village

19:17 - 15/04/2012

Cao Lao Ha people who work far away f-rom home must have remembered an image f-rom the childhood, when they were given a sticky rice dish on their hand by mothers or grandmothers.



In a sweltering day, when the Hot and dry westerly wind (f-rom Laos to Central Vietnam)    We made a trip to Ha Trach Commune, Bo Trach District, which was called Cao Lao Ha in the past. And the people living here proudly call it Ky Phong – Long Khe land.


Ky Phong is a majesticmountain, which in fact is one of the highest hills belonging to Le De cordillera, separated f-rom leaping chain of  Trương Son Moutain running to East Sea. F-rom the highest place of Ky Phong Mountain, looking to Northern, we can see clearly smooth and spreading Cao Lao Ha land, of which the fields are not too much wide and fertile.


What a village! There is a thin, simple track stacked the bank of Linh Giang River, which is the combination of Nay River and Son River flowing into the sea. In Quang Binh, Cao Lao Ha is one of the accent places which were constructed into a land of one commune. For instance, Le Son village nowadays belongs to Van Hoa Commune, Thanh Lang village belongs to Thanh Hoa Commune; and Cao Lao Ha belongs to Ha Trach Commune.Therefore, rural construction, building cultural house, :communal house  are implemented by the administration of the Commune.


For a love-home-person like me,in spite of being attended a lot of  village festivals rarely could I participated such a gorgeous event like ground breaking ceremony for Communal House of the Cao Lao Havillage  . Hundreds of descendants, families f-rom all over  Vietnam gathered to contribute their strength to build the Communal House  including labors, money. Before the beginning of ground breaking ceremony, the dignitaries together with 24 chiefs of families lighted incense and prayed for fallen heroes in two national wars.


In an ancient map,  the picture of Cao Lao Ha also included Ky Son mountain belonging to De Le cordillera and a small river derived f-rom this mountain, wandering into Bau Mot and returning to an accent tower. Nowadays, the cultivation has slowly removed traces of this small river and the tower. And may be this small river doesn’t meander nine times tobe called Cuu Khuc Long Khe (Nine-Meander-Dragon -River).Cuu Khuc Long  Khe is a supernatural land: “Cuu Khuc enters the flow with  Minh Duong makes great literature”

 In the mid- sixteenth century  about 500 years ago, Dr. Duong Van An has referred Cao Lao Hạ as a land whe-re there were many people keen on literature.  In the twentith century, there was a  in the sin-eight-word distich metre piece of art called Cao Lao Huong Su  which was written by Luu Trong Tuan. Besides, there were some famous poets such as Luu Trong Lu, Luu Ky Linh…


Usually, mysterious, imposing land is the land of which the back is mountain and the front is river or field. In contrast, in Ha Trach, the back is river, the front is mountain. All residents of 20 sub-villages of Ha Trach as well as 24 family-worshiped-house face to the South whe-re there are mountains. However, the village’Communal House   faces to the North, to Gianh River. It is supposed that the ancients saw the disadvantage that building their houses facing with the river could against the northeast wind. Houses facing to the South would deal this problem. Also, they could see Le De Mountain as a sign of having good results at studying. The village’s icommunal house  faces to the North in order to catch the spirits of Son and Nay water sources. “The direction of these houses is at Nam Phuong. The shape of the village is as a dragon pearl ship”.


Ha Trach people are  nice and gentle. However, no matter what they study, whe-re they work, they still success and leave good impression. In 19th century,Mr Luu Duc Binh graduated master degree and was a governor of Nghi Xuan district. He was very simple and closed to people. Besides being a politician, he also taught hundreds of scholars. When the King required him to come to the capital, local people wrote a letter asking the King for keeping him stay at the district for over 6 years. His son was Luu Diet - a minister under direction of Can Vuong, Le Mo Khai. Another Binh’s son was Luu Duc Xung who graduated BA’s degree and got high position in the government apparatus. Also he was an author of “Journal of Unified Dai Nam” with Cao Xuan Duc, Tran San and “Quang Binh khoa luc”. Descendants are Luu Trong Tien, Luu Duc Xuan who also got BA’s degree


Besides, there were other people with different positions, such as master Dang Van Thai, Luu Luong, Le Van Gian, Nguyen Khoan Hoang, and Nguyen Van Khu. Having martial positions, there were Le Quang Chanh, Lanh Hoa, Lanh Niem, Quyen Cuu, Vo Soi, Vo Ngon, Vo Gia, Doi Quyen, and Vo Kham who had helped Le Mo Khai and Phan Dinh Phung at Can Vuong’s movement. Especially, celebrity Le Mo Khai or people used to call Le Mo Khoi graduated BA’s bachelor in Tu Duc Dynasty. He was an official in Binh Dinh, Hai Duong. When king Ham Nghi went abroad, Le Mo Khai gathered soldiers in Cao Lao, built base at Trai Nai (whe-re is Ba Trai now) to fight against The French  for nearly 3 years. Today, land, water, and traditional culture of studiousness of Cao Lao Ha have contributed in creating a lot of talents with many celebrities and successful businessman.  For examples, there were Le Van Tri – air force commander in the war against American, Luu Ba Xao, Luu Duong, vice president of people’s committees of Quang Binh province– Luu Van Dang, and a lot of people with different military positions, over 20 doctors, and over 500 people got BA’s degree.


Cao Lao Ha is an accent land. Lam Ap and Cham people had chosen it as their capital. As being written in historical books, in year 248, Lam Ap occupied Khu Tuc. Ton Quyen empowered Luc Dan vice minister Giao Chau An Nam Hieu Uy. Only then, Lam Ap people stopped the war but still kept Khu Tuc .. At Khu Tuc, Lam Ap built an important military stronghold. Many historians supposed that Khu Tuc was Cao Lao Ha; Bo Trach was on The Gianh river right bank.The people of Cao Lao Ha call this military stronghold Thieng Ke Ha(f-rom Thanh Ke Ha as local voice)  We walked along the main road of the citadel which has north-south axis. 1800 years has passed since the leader Khu Lien established Lam Ap country, after that was Chiem citadel, covex citadel – Thieng Ke Ha  - Khu Tuc now only remains with big stones lying in the middle of nature. In Cao Lao Ha, there is another place that must have existed for thousands of years. That is Dong Pho. Local people supposed that there could have been a group of residents living on this flat land with animated streets.


Time with fluctuation of nature and history almost de-leted all marks of a citadel. In the northeast of Ha Trach, there is a cork forest submerged in salt water along Gianh River which local people call “sac” forest. As in Feng Shui, this is a black tortoise of a village which helps to resist waves for a dike and resist wind for residential area.


The Communal House of CaoLaoHa village has existed for hundreds years. After the 2 wars, it was damaged. Fortunately, it still remains 2 pillars which are evidences for a monumental comunal hous)in the past. The couplet on these pillars illustrates regal spirit of the village among the national community: “ Thiên khai thịnh hội quang cường tịnh/địa xuất danh hiền duyệt cổ kim. It means: God opens a prosperous and crowed place/ Mother Land born talent people. (The founders were General Luu Van Tien who was honoured  Thanh Hoang Lang (The first one to set up and look after the village’s souls), General Nguyen Van Khai  , Mr  Le Quang Lu , Luu Van, Le Van, Le Quang, Le Chieu and 24 families) In Cao Lao Ha, there was a unique design called “Literature House”. It had 3 spaces in which people worship gpatriarchs of Confucianist . Also, this house used to be a place for holding meetings of scholars.. Besides, there was “Martial House”. This was a ring for masters and learners who had a dream to protect their country.


At the ceremony of rebuilding the Communal House of CaoLaoHa village,there were some people who did not have any position at the government apparatus ,however, they were respected the most.They were 24 chiefs of 24 families.  . This is another unique thing of Cao Lao Ha.The dignitaries thurified  to ancestors . After that, all young and  had a meal together, , they had a very especial way to eat sticky rice dish in the middle of the commune house without using any chopstics or spoons. It does not need to be too strict at behaviors in the meal. Also, this party follows democracy trend. Women and children are allowed to be joined the meal in the middle of Commune House.Nowadays, Ha Trach does not have hungry households. Poor households also decrease. When the harvest time comes, tons of paddies are produced. Cao Lao Ha people who work far away f-rom home must have remembered an image f-rom the childhood, when they were given a sticky rice dish on their hand by mothers or grandmothers. This caring is a small flame that heats so many hearts of many generations. Then, they have cre-ated a good image about Cao Lao Ha people through every step that they walk through.


In order to close this writing, we would like to borrow a poem of a famous poet who is also f-rom Cao Lao Ha. This poem was made on the way he came back to the village:


Oh! My homeland, I am coming back

My grey hair reflects on the shells and mussels

As a child rolling over on the sand

Rolling and rolling all my life

I want the sand still sticked on my skin


The poeple of Ky Phong – Long Khe land, have you ever thought like that? Have you ever rolled over Linh Giang dike or Ky Phong hill then asked yourself about your love to Cao Lao Ha village?




The Vietnamese version of this article can be found here. (Xem bản tiếng Việt tại đây)


Tác giả : Lê Chiêu Phùng. Dịch ra tiếng Anh: Lê Hồng Anh

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