Sa Mộc – Phạm Vân Anh (Chapter 1)

Đất nước trăm miền trăm xao xuyến
Xao xuyến nào bằng lời ký thác biên cương

A hundred-domain country arouses
Which arousal can be as of border‘s words of entrust

(Phạm Vân Anh)

Ms.Phạm Vân Anh



“He Counts sand, he Bails out sea, he Names the stars, he Creates rivers, he Builds mountains…”

The old story told by grandma her lips red of betel

Measureless land of the epics

Seeing lone trees tear rock to grow

Heftily is the ceremonial forces of the fencing land

Carve on the high azure the tireless will

Cunninghamia assembles wind into loving words that make mount’s heart,

man’s heart stop uptight

Fathomless U Ma Tu Khoong

Steeply Phan Lien San

Snowy dew under flag of ultimate North

Takes trees’ shadow as forest road companion

Rest at deserted cliff
Flying pollen signals Spring

Hundred-year burden on scabrous shell

Whispering the achievements of he who created the agglomerated strata

When “earth still messy, terrace field still cluttered, sky still jumbled” [1]

Without these cunninghamias

The thousand-year journey of the rock sudden turns into vain

Without these cunninghamias

My lonesome is more than of a grave

Thirst for a waving tree’s shadow on the sky’s summit


The early lesson from the mountainous path is mythology

Chu Lau Chu Lau kneads earth to match the sky

Chau Rang Det Pu builds high mounts

Chau Rang Det Phang digs deep trenches

Chau Chuc Chau Chao creates terrace rice fields

Know the names of ancient Lo Lo spirit, elder Co-lao spirit

He who breeds the lairs, conceives the caves

Afternoon’s forest path taught us folklore

About the gourd that breed the Xa, the Thai, the Lu, the Lao…

The few skins turned into the Dao, Meo who guards the high mountain                       

The common gourd pulps turned into the Tay, Nung whose eyes on pasture

The many seeds turned into the Kinh who exploits meadow

We Vietnamese are trees that share the same root

Here Bana, Ede, Xodang

There Stieng, Jairai, Kinh, Tho

For having built too great a Tall House that resented Giang [2]

That brothers were made to be unknown of each other’s tongues

March’s patrol road stained with ultimate red

Make winter turns hard ripe

It is the flag of sovereinty, the blood of those who felt beside those trees

Semal tree, silk cotton tree

Or its plain semal flower

Through dry sun thick snow

In early spring those flowers spit fire

Aglaia trees carve on pure blue the astonishing line of ornament

Joyful is the sky of the front-border

A burn glared as Ha Nhi soul emerges [3]

Petals fallen frighten the enemies

A blood drop of Pu Peo built a milestone

Life after life, the village of Tay has believed as such

Souls after souls, the Nung has lived as such

For 500 years bees have flown in desperate in buckwheat hill[4]

Migration step carries destiny of a reign

Story of our ancestors told on the scarve

Pattern that attached with Lo Lo past

In new home they vow to be the guardian

On and on keep the echoing bronze drum of Ngoc Lu

The drumb beat plays low tones speaks for proudly souls

Mingle in the forest’s beat with respectful soul towards their



For 330 years, ravingly snuggle into the echoing trumpet of Meo Vac[5]

Recognized as the Mong’s place of origin

Tears and sweat pour over the rock

Create golden corn, purple rice, aroma wine

Create the tough arms of their sons, strike like eagle wings

Bouquet as the fermented leaves

Keep the hamlets with the hot blood

Create the naked legs of their daughters

Patiently up the paddy field, down the market

Love the terrace hill every flax season

300 years a restless voyage[6]

On hat of babbling toddlers there’re sea sound

The epics call in fire embers

Exotic dance hot as burning coal

Fire dance offers up bathing saint”[7]

A flickered cubism painting carved on black space

Remind of another imagine in spiritual Pa Then

I urge to be a Bo Y boy

Dedicate the pray among empathetic nature

Their field is for their buffalos to sharpen the horn

Buffalos shall plow hard on ours

For the past-year field has not been completed

This year it must be done

No dinstinction between adequate gifts and lesser ones

Plow heaten up

Hundred hands carve whishes onto future

I urge to be a Van Kieu girl

Rely on tambourine sound to search her lover in the middle of aroma highlands

Melodious Ta-Lu[8]

Lost in the woods in “Xim” season[9]

Trembling chest of every boy and girl

Blue summit excited with couples’ rythm

Boat sails gently in vastly Da Giang

Observe Shi La she-mountaineers avidly dance after invisble melody

Ta lom dance is now a memory [10]

Meadow’s rice take root on border’s land

               Mountain crest bloomed of flowers its base harmonious of fine aroma

Land of epics sails up Nam Non ruggy waterfalls

Seeing the brothers who call themselves “Tay Hat”[11]

        Pathetic” or “Poor”

Any way is heartbreaking

A new born child waits for Thunder to be named

He who returns to Then counts on thunder sound to be set free [12]

A leaf roof that contains norms is the hidden stream that connects

Makemy heart stauncher before the insecured nature out there

Sunset falls on Chu Mom Ray

Coffee lappet turns red ripe

Charitable Grand Forest protects the children of the great Central Highland

Sa Thay night so pure

Thought to be washily dissolved in immense forest aroma

Fire has heated

Wine bouquet has risen

Beckons a gong xoang night of vehement Ro Mam

Sing a loving chanty lyric about Seven Mounts

Someone’s boat-shaped moon nails in Giang Thanh dock

“Pop in, gal” sweet as doub palm

O Lam night of gentle Du Ke tune

Flexible as watersnake, clever as light[13]

Arrange settlements for generations on crumbled muddy land

Oh, the brothers

That has stopped wandering to be the people of this land

Please write on the pages of “Breed earth breed water” [14]

Charge and keep this land like “Tay Pu Xac” [15]

Fight invaders as glorious “P’huy ca Na ca[16]

Sing “The bride sing” over the cliffs calling the lovers [17]

So the male carries the spirit of Thanh Giong, Dam San, Xinh Nha[18]

So the female can be capable like Lady Nga, Lady Uiá [19]

So the Hơmon lasts forever [20]

Sarikakeo dance connects loving beats [21]



Land of ancient history

Land of Origin of many ethnic minorities

Mother‘s forehead contains thousands of legends

 Spread into me feelings of love

 Hand me a gift of local intellect

that constant flows within the living’s vein

 To know more to love more

 Enrich the package of Viet souls

There are no witnesses

But the elders‘ eyes shine of faith

 as if getting lost in the forest just to see cunninghamia among darksome clouds

Lit me redden in a late day’s borderland

Thousand years whisper…!

[1] A verse in an epic called Breed earth breed water of the Muong ethnic people

[2] (*) The way Central Highlanders call the their God

[3] The Ha Nhi ethnic people have a wish that upon their demise, they will become the milestones in the after-life to stop enemy from invading their country. The God  appeared and turn every soul of Ha Nhi into semal tree of the borderland, their red flowers fall as the enemy approach and fright them.

[4] 500 years ago, ancient kingdom Nam Chieu of the Lo Lo people was invaded. Chieftain of Lo Lo gave 12 handful of buckwheat seeds to 12 warlords and told them to plant as soon as they migrated to a new home. -Plant them so that people will know it is the living land of  the Lo Lo. Lo Lo’s woman sew buckwheat patterns on their scarve to recognize their countrymen .

[5] 330 years ago, the first group of Mong people migrated in Meo Vac, Ha Giang from there they spread to many other territories. Vietnam’s Mong recognized Meo Vac as their land of Origrin. They make pilgrim yearly

[6] About 300 years ago, the Pa Then people came to Vietnam from the sea, they then moved up to the rivers to reach the borderland of Ha Giang. Pa Then’s infants wore the hat attached with snail shells to remind them of their nation’s migration.

[7] The Pa Then people believe that fire dancing is offering water for their Saint’s bath.

[8] A musical instrument of the Van Kieu people.

[9] Season when boys and girls head to the woods to find their mates.

[10] Dance of the Shi La people praying for prosperous seasons. Thus, describing the primitive act of digging holes dropping seeds on terrace paddy   

[11] The people of O Ducall themselves Tay Hat, meaning “nation of the poor and pathetic”. They believe the sky’s Thunder is the origin of all therefore every solemn Mass depends on the thunder sound.

[12] The way the O Du people call the Sky

[13] The Khmer people believe that their nation was born out of the marriage of Preak Thon – son of sun god, and lady Neak – daughter of serpent king Naga. Most Khmer people never migrate. They “hold on” to this fluminous Southern area, from which their ancestors thrived.

[14] Muong’s national epic

[15] “The Thai against enemies” –epic of the Thai

[16]  “Land keeping” – epic of the Ha Nhi

[17] Story-poetry of the Mong

[18] Heroes in legends and epics of nations Kinh, Bana, Ede

[19]  Loyal, warm- hearted, agile ladies in Muong, Thai epics

[20] The way people of Bana call an epic

[21] Traditional singing-dancing style of Khmer

What do you think?

Written by Trúc Anh

Vietnamese, English, Thai, Chinese

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