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American collectors displays ethnic Dao artifacts in Hanoi (December 22, 2003)

Visitors look at costume of a Dao ethnic minority shaman at an exhibition. The costume was woven by hand with decorative patterns.
An American doctor is shedding some light on the origins of trinkets found in the deepest corners of Vietnamese markets.

The Museum of Ethnology has organised an exhibition featuring part of Mark Rapoport's collection of finds mined from shops throughout Hanoi over the past three years.

Titled The Search for Cultural Value of Objects Floating in the Market, the exhibition features 230 objects made by Dao ethnic minorities, including drums, statues, sacred pictures, bells, shamans' costumes and prayer books.

"When Dr Rapoport lent us his collection," said museum director Nguyen Van Huy, "all of the items lost their passports. Nobody knew their origins."

The museum asked two experts to do some investigating.

Ban Van Xiem, a Dao Ho shaman from the northern province of Lao Cai, were invited to join the work.

Within eight days, he had identified 123 of the objects as belonging to his ethnic minority group.

Painter Phan Ngoc Khue of the Kinh ethnic group, who specialises in the folk arts of northern ethnic minority groups, has lent his expertise to the project with help in identifying sacred tools and pictures.

"Though there are still disagreements between the two experts and the origins of 89 objects haven't been identified, their efforts should be highly appreciated for giving sufficient background on the exhibits here," Mr Huy said.

Mr Huy has called on visitors and other private collectors to help classify the remaining objects.

Dr Rapoport said it was important that the objects retain their cultural significance. "We hope this exhibition will encourage more people to get involved in the process of finding cultural value in such objects," he said.

"I have a close relationship with many of the shopkeepers. It's a give and take relationship. I learnt a great deal from them and vice versa - I help them have a better view of collecting things," said Dr Rapoport.

The availability of the items, he said, was making it easier for private collectors like him. At the same time, he warned the objects could float through the market and gradually lose their origins. "At that time, they are just silent objects and contain no more cultural value," he said.

The exhibition The Search for Cultural Value of Objects Floating in the Market runs at the Museum of Ethnology on Nguyen Van Huyen Road until the end of January.

Reprinted from VietNamNet


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