Mountainland: Vietnamese Photographs by Sascha Richter

"Mountainland" surveys the lives and societies of upland Southeast Asia with reference to the geographical and socio-scientific concept of Zomia, which understands the region as culturally different from the respective dominant lowland societies and tries to challenge the widespread perception
Three generations are harvesting the family's rice, that will serve them as food for the coming year. Children are an important work force for poor families, who help earning the income.

“Mountainland” surveys the lives and societies of upland Southeast Asia with reference to the geographical and socio-scientific concept of Zomia, which understands the region as culturally different from the respective dominant lowland societies and tries to challenge the widespread perception and narrative of the cultural unity of Southeast Asia as a region. It highlights the classical lifestyle of the mountain dwellers vis-à-vis the respective lowland societies and documents their daily struggle for existence.

The Southeast Asian Massif is a region that sprawls across Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, India and Bangladesh, roughly 2,5 million sqare kilometers. Most of the people dwelling there are fragmented into hundreds of ethnic identities, linguistically and culturally distinct from the populations that dominate the state cores in the valleys. Estimations put the ethnic minority populations at around eighty million to one hundred million people. The population of the hills is far more dispersed and culturally diverse than that of the valleys and their history is best understood as a history of runaways from nationbuilding processes in the lowlands.

Historically all states, classical, colonial and independent nation-states, in the region have tried to bring such people under their administration and encouraged politics of economic, administrative, and cultral absorption into the majority population at the state core. Thereby making the upland both a space of political resistance and a zone of cultural refuge.

The region is knittered together not by political unity, but by comparable patterns of hill agriculture, dispersal, mobility, rough egalitarianism and cultural refuge from the institutional authority of the state. Rugged mountains and harsh landscapes are providing a homeland and shape the environment for the people balancing between traditional livelihood and modern structures. Naturally, today, in our fast growing, globalized world, the option of avoiding the state is one that is fast vanishing, also for the people of the hills. [Official Website]

A family is doing harvest work on their field, close to a river running through a valley. Rice is the main, and for some poor families the only, source of nutrition in the region. Harvesting season is the most crucial time of the year. The whole family works together to ensure the family's supply of food for the coming year.
A family is doing harvest work on their field, close to a river running through a valley. Rice is the main, and for some poor families the only, source of nutrition in the region. Harvesting season is the most crucial time of the year. The whole family works together to ensure the family’s supply of food for the coming year.

A boy takes care of the family's herd of water buffaloes while his parents are working on their field. Many children need to support their families rather than going to school.
A boy takes care of the family’s herd of water buffaloes while his parents are working on their field.
Many children need to support their families rather than going to school.

A small village located at the foot of a mountain in Ha Giang province. The area is known for its karst topography and lack of water, making livelihood for the people dwelling in this region very hard.
A small village located at the foot of a mountain in Ha Giang province. The area is known for its karst topography and lack of water, making livelihood for the people dwelling in this region very hard.

Portrait of girl in school wearing her traditional dress.
Portrait of girl in school wearing her traditional dress.

A twelve year old girl is taking care of her relatives during the day, while their parents are working on the fields.
A twelve year old girl is taking care of her relatives during the day, while their parents are working on the fields.

A girl is lost in thoughts while taking care of her little sister.
A girl is lost in thoughts while taking care of her little sister.

A man rides through his village on a motorbike. Motorbikes are necessary means of transportation and bridging the long distances between remote villages and towns along the mountains.
A man rides through his village on a motorbike. Motorbikes are necessary means of transportation and bridging the long distances between remote villages and towns along the mountains.

Children are performing to a Communist Party of Vietnam's song that is played every day at school. Most of the children do not understand the meaning as their mother tongue is not Vietnamese.
Children are performing to a Communist Party of Vietnam’s song that is played every day at school. Most of the children do not understand the meaning as their mother tongue is not Vietnamese.

View of a primary school. In the remote mountain areas many schools use cheap, natural materials, such as clay for their buildings. But some schools still cannot afford proper walls. Pupils are exposed to weather conditions even in winter, when the temperatures fall below freezing point.
View of a primary school. In the remote mountain areas many schools use cheap, natural materials, such as clay for their buildings. But some schools still cannot afford proper walls. Pupils are exposed to weather conditions even in winter, when the temperatures fall below freezing point.

A group of girls is walking through a mudded street in their village after heavy rainfall.
A group of girls is walking through a mudded street in their village after heavy rainfall.

A boy is carrying home his crop, that will serve as food for the family's animals. Cane is one of the most common agricultural products in Ha Giang province. Because of its karst topography in certain areas it is very difficult to cultivate rice or grow vegetables.
A boy is carrying home his crop, that will serve as food for the family’s animals. Cane is one of the most common agricultural products in Ha Giang province. Because of its karst topography in certain areas it is very difficult to cultivate rice or grow vegetables.

A boy collects paper trash in order to sell it for about one dollar per kilogram on a nearby market. This way he helps to support the family's income.
A boy collects paper trash in order to sell it for about one dollar per kilogram on a nearby market. This way he helps to support the family’s income.

In the mountainous areas of northern Vietnam markets are held every Sunday. They are important for selling and buying local agricultural products, household utensils, medicine and the occasion for social and cultural exchanges, also among people of different ethnic groups.
In the mountainous areas of northern Vietnam markets are held every Sunday. They are important for selling and buying local agricultural products, household utensils, medicine and the occasion for social and cultural exchanges, also among people of different ethnic groups.

Two men are peeling garlic to plant the seed as next year's crop.
Two men are peeling garlic to plant the seed as next year’s crop.

A group of people is negotiating the price for a water buffalo on a local market. Buffaloes can serve as farm animals as well as an investment, with prices ranging up to $2000.
A group of people is negotiating the price for a water buffalo on a local market. Buffaloes can serve as farm animals as well as an investment, with prices ranging up to $2000.

Portrait of a woman in her traditional clothes, worn by Dao people.
Portrait of a woman in her traditional clothes, worn by Dao people.

Women are using baskets to separate rice grain and straw as part of their harvest work.
Women are using baskets to separate rice grain and straw as part of their harvest work.

Girls are playing with stones on a self-made board.
Girls are playing with stones on a self-made board.

Mountainland: Vietnamese Photographs | Sascha Richter
Mountainland: Vietnamese Photographs | Sascha Richter

 

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