An “elephant king” chair made from elephant’s bones and tusks. (Photo: cand.com.vn)

Lam Dong (VNA) - Retired police officer Dang Minh Tam is passionate about preserving the artefacts of ethnic groups in the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region.

Tam, 59, who lives in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, is a member of the province’s UNESCO club for Vietnamese antique research and collection.

Over the last 30 years, he has found more than 3,000 artefacts that symbolise the culture, religion and beliefs of ethnic people living in the region, including the Xe Dang and Ba Na in Kon Tum province, Gia Rai in Gia Lai province, E Dê and M’Nong in Dak Lak and Dak Nong provinces, and K’Ho, Chau Ma and Churu in Lam Dong province.

Among his finds are hunting tools for land and underwater, forging tools, musical instruments, weaving and farm tools, and household utensils.

He is also proud of his collection of traditional costumes, jewelry and hundreds of bamboo wicker backpacks used by various ethnic groups in the Central Highlands.

Born in the northern province of Nam Dinh, Tam was 18 years old when he began work as a police in Lam Dong, where he became familiar with the forest, villages and local residents.

When he left the province, he kept scores of ethnic costumes and musical instruments.

"These things have sentimental value and connect me with the villagers and this region," he said. “I was really impressed with the diversity of cultural and spiritual life of the people.”

According to the ethnics’ concept of living, each antique or musical instrument contains within it a god, Tam said.

Among the antiques are big terracotta vases of the Ba Na made in the 13th century as well as old vases of the Cham.

A prominent artefact in his collection is an “elephant king” chair made from elephant’s bone and tusks, with dozens of traditional hunting tools attached to the chair.

Tam also owns a vase that has the equivalent value of one elephant. In the past, if anyone accidentally killed an elephant, they could give a big vase to the owner of the animal for compensation.

He also owns a vase titled “Mother Holding Her Baby”, which has the equivalent value of 11 buffalos.

Dang Minh Tam in Lam Dong Province can play many kinds of traditional musical instruments of various ethnic groups in the Central Highlands region. (Photo: cand.com.vn)
Old terracotta vases made by ethnic people in the Central Highlands. (Photo: cand.com.vn)

Among the artefacts Tam collects are traditional costumes, such as Chau Ma garments made of gong fibres that are more than 200 years old.

After work, Tam relaxes by playing traditional musical instruments or listening to music at his home.

He is especially interested in gong music of the ethnic communities in the region.

“During gong festivals, I follow the gong musicians with a passion to listen and learn, and I finally became a member of a gong music band,” said Tam, who can play many kinds of traditional instruments.

Understanding the ethnic culture has helped him find antiquities, while his ability to speak K’Ho, Gia Rai and other languages at a basic level has enabled communication with the locals.

"If you do not know their customs, you won’t be able to find the sources and trace the origin of artefacts," he said.

Tam said he had rejected many offers from buyers, who were ready to pay up to 2 billion VND (88,068 USD) for half of his collection.

“These old things bring great spiritual value to me and cannot be exchanged for anything," he said.

He uses a 300sq.m space in his house to display his collection in Da Lat city for visitors and students who want to conduct research and learn about the Central Highlands culture.

Despite years of collecting and travel, Tam plans to continue to spend his free time looking for more artefacts with the aim of preserving the cultural values of the region.-VNA