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Posted on Thursday, April 20 - 2006

" As night falls on the ancient tombs, mystery creeps like a mist in the night, as if the very air is cooled by the ghouls and ghosts that prowl the forests. “That forest is the nocturnal dominion of Muong chiefs from many a generation. We live next to them, but never do we dare walk the w..."

In Hoa Binh province lie a number of ancient tombs of the Muong minority group – tombs brought alive by mystery and legend.

As night falls on the ancient tombs, mystery creeps like a mist in the night, as if the very air is cooled by the ghouls and ghosts that prowl the forests. “That forest is the nocturnal dominion of Muong chiefs from many a generation. We live next to them, but never do we dare walk the woods after dark.” A snaggle-toothed old lady wails.Located in Kim Boi District, the site of the ancient tombs - Dong Thech - is something wild beyond your most mysterious dreams. According to Bui Thi Au, 86, the ancient tombs are cloaked in supernaturalpowers, protected by the thick woods.

Those woods, she says, are home to lycanthropes, ghouls and all manner of unsavoury deities.In the past, Muong chieftains would choose locations surrounded by mountains – thought to be “attending dragons” - for their tombs. In doing so, they believed, power and legend for them and their children would be protected forever. And in a way, it is. Whenever a senior villager died, everyone in his fiefdom had to attend the funeral. People, no matter whether rich or poor, had to bring a buffalo or cow for the ceremonial feast. Healthy men folk were sent into the forest to gather hardwoods to build a coffin and produce charcoal. The body was placed inside the coffin, where it would remain in state for days crying and worship. Only then could it be delivered to the burial plotat Dong Thech. A number of graves were prepared with charcoal lining the bottom. Once the coffin was interred, a layer of charcoal was scattered across the top. Depending on status and wealth of the dead, their belongings would be buried with them. Valuable offerings would also be placed and worshiped under a small pagoda above the grave. The deceased’s children would continue to mourn their forebear until the pagoda roof fell. As the chieftains were often rulers of iron fist, they would sometimes demand their slaves be buried alive along with them. After the funeral, children would bury large stones around the tomb, carving the name, status and other information of the person whose grave they marked. Some of these stone can still be seen today. The biggest tomb in Dong Thech is believed to be that of one of......

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