|A grave house of the Co Tu in Quang Nam province
Tay Giang village of the Co Tu is located on a high mountain in Quang Nam province. Tourists are thrilled to see ancient stilt houses and creepy grave-houses. A charnel house is often 2 meters high with sloping roofs which are colored with red, white, and blue checked patterns.
There are images of two roosters on both ends of the roof-top. The grave-house has 4 main pillars engraved with images of turtles, snakes, and lizards while 2 beams have the shape of pythons.
Surrounding the house are wood statues of old and young people smiling, crying, playing gongs, dancing, or taking part in a buffalo sacrifice ceremony.
Blei Bo, a senior villager of A Do hamlet in Tay Giang district, said artisans engrave statues reflecting daily activities of the Co Tu: The grave-houses are the most beautiful architectural works of the Co Tu. People believe that when they die, it’s just the physical death of the body. Their souls will live in the grave-houses. Rich people may spend 5 or 6 years preparing their grave-houses.
A Da Nhat, a Co Tu sculpture artisan in Tay Giang district, said "The grave houses reflect the wealth and social status of the owners. We engrave wood statues of precious things the deceased owned. For example they had killed a wild beast, I’ll make a statue of it. It reflects his strength and bravery.”
Around the grave house are many terror masks painted red or black. Old Co Tu people explain that the masks chase away evils and protect the soul of the dead person. A most amazing statue is a dragon-like creature with a snake’s body, a rooster head, and a fish tail. It’s a symbol of the water genie who fights evil, ensures peace, and protects the soul of the dead.
A Da Nhat said, “The village chief uses the image of the dragon to encourage good behaviors. We believe that the creature will punish inhuman people.”
Inside the grave-house is a wood coffin to keep the remains. It’s engraved with images of turtles, lizards, circles, buffalo heads, and flowers. Doctor Luu Hung, former Deputy Director of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, says that in the past the coffin was a precious wedding gift the groom gave his parent-in-law.
The Co Tu choose precious wood to build grave-houses which can exist for hundreds of years. The sculpture artisans show their skills and creativity depending on the community, the social status and characteristics of the dead.