Accepted Paper:

The revival of the community house (guol) among the Katu of Central Vietnam: empowerment or impoverishment?  


Kaj Arhem (Göteborg/Uppsala University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the diverse functions and meanings of the Katu Community House (guol) as an element of national cultural policies and as a symbolically charged expression of local cultural traditions.

Paper long abstract:

Since the mid 1990-ies, in the wake of Vietnam's <i>doi moi</i> (economic renovation) policy, selective manifestations of culture among Vietnam's numerous ethnic minority groups have been promoted by the state. This paper deals with the social and cultural implications of this policy for the Katu people in the Annamite (Truong Son) mountains of central Vietnam. As it happens, the traditional <i>guol</i> (communal-house) institution among the Katu is strongly promoted by the state as a vehicle for strengthening community solidarity and a venue for the dissemination of national development policies. At the same time, practices related to funerals and the building of elaborate tomb houses for the dead - traditionally a significant cultural practice - is actively opposed. Both institutions are central to Katu collective identity. In particular, the paper discusses the transformation of the <i>guol</i> institution from a social and cultural centre-piece of Katu identity-construction, materialised in the magnificent and elaborately decorated communal house, into a political arena in the service of the state - a stage for promulgating the state's vision of cultural development and progress.

Panel W062
Challenges of local and regional cultural politics in Southeast Asia