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A journey is a bridge between two points. In Vietnam, some journeys take place on roads, highways, railways, rivers, and footpaths as family members come home for the New Year, hunters travel into the forest and city dwellers carry precariously balanced goods on bicycles and motorbikes. Other journeys are metaphorical: Life is a journey marked by significant rituals, and the year is a journey mapped by a calendar. Souls travel to the netherworld, while gods and ancestors return to the human world during celebrations in their honor. Every year, more than a million tourists visit Vietnam, a country that many of them first knew from images of a war. Among these tourists, too, are former American servicemen, who have made their own pilgrimages to Vietnam as acts of healing and reconciliation. Still other travelers—those born in Vietnam but now living abroad—will always call this place "home." In this exhibition, we invite you to journey through a changing Vietnam and to experience the incredible diversity of its landscape and its people.

Exhibition Highlights



Journeys of Gods, Family Ancestors

For the Kinh, the Hoa (Chinese), and some other ethnic groups living in Vietnam, the year's journey begins with Tet, the lunar New Year.



Journeys of People and Goods

Exchanges of goods map human encounters, from face-to-face bargaining in a village market to business on a global scale.



Journeys of Life and Death

If life is a journey, passage ritesinitiations, weddings, and funeralsare the way stations that signal transitions from one stage to the next.



Journeys of Heroes and Deities

Large and exuberant festivals in honor of local gods are central to village life among the Kinh majority in Vietnam.



Journeys to Other Worlds

Shamans preside over some rituals in many of the religious traditions that coexist among the majority and minority populations of Vietnam.



Journeys Through the Year

The Mid-Autumn festival is a high point in the year's journey for Kinh and Hoa families, a time to consider the bounty of past seasons and the promise of what is to come.

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Staff Profile

Meet the Curator

Laurel Kendall, an anthropologist who specializes in Korean cultural studies, has written extensively on shamanism, issues of gender, and, more recently, the cultural constructions of "tradition" and "modernity."

This exhibition and related programs are made possible by the philanthropic leadership of the Freeman Foundation. Additional generous funding provided by the Ford Foundation for the collaboration between the American Museum of Natural History and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Also supported by the Asian Cultural Council. Planning grant provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Vietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind & Spirit is the product of a three-year collaboration between the American Museum of Natural History and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Staff members from both museums worked together in planning, researching, writing, and designing the exhibition, as well as collecting the objects displayed in it. Our work together marks a journey away from the painful history of a war and toward a more promising future.


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