In ancient Egypt, even the dead of the upper class lived in luxury. They had jewels, foods, and beautiful face masks made for them to use in the afterlife. Today, when someone dies, they are usually just dressed in a nice outfit and put into a coffin.
However, members of one small village in Vietnam following in the footsteps of the ancient Egyptians, have elaborately decorated the tombs of their dead and erected fancy mausoleums for themselves.
The small Vietnamese village is for the most part a quiet fishing village just outside the ancient imperial capital, Hue. The village has actually become a major tourist attraction all because of its strange graveyard, in which all of the tombs are colorful and highly-decorated, depending on whose family member lies there.
As the years go on, the tombs grow bigger and fancier; in fact the tombs are more elaborate and beautiful than the villagers’ small homes. The families that live in the community will pay almost $70,000 for a wonderful mausoleum for their ancestors.
To put it into perspective, the annual pay for many people is only $2,000. About 90 percent of those villagers have rich relatives that live overseas, mostly in the United States. These relatives send money home to the villagers so that they can build the tombs for their dead loved ones. The tombs are built on white sand, which makes them ever more vibrant and interesting to see. They stretch alongside the road for nearly three kilometres.
Vietnam has been influenced by Confucianist Buddhism despite decades of communist rule, and any of those people living in the country take their ancestor worship seriously.
One retired fisherman in the village, Dang Thien, said that their cemetery is very unique. He gave the reporters in the village a tour of his own family’s large, 400 square meter tomb. He added that the huge, elaborate tombs are for their children to be able to pay respect to the dead. He explained that taking good care of the tomb will bring the family good fortune, since it will be there forever.
Thien’s ornate structure stands six meters high and is covered with colorful dragons carved into the pillars. What seems like a large tomb for the area is actually now small compared to the many others that have been built around it. Some of the newer tombs on the site tower about 10 meters high, every single part of them being decorated.
The tombs in the cemetery are built in several different styles; Buddhist, Gothic-style European and even a good handful of Romanesque columns. The traditional Vietnamese dragon carvings are quite popular among them, but some of the graves appear to have been inspired by Hindu imagery. Some others feature Christian or Islamic symbols.
To stress just how fancy the tombs are, they are so large that they could be mistaken for mansions. There are stone lions and glittering dragons that sit on the roof-ridges.
Some tombs in the area stand empty due to the fact that the villagers have built them in advance of their own deaths. One of the pre-built tombs has been waiting since 2005 for its owner.
A local policeman, Hoang Khang, confirms that the graves are largely paid for by the relatives living overseas, especially in the United States. Khang said that since the people living in the United States are well off, they send money back home, which is then invested in the tombs, graves, and the village temple.
The central village Hue lies close to the line that divided Vietnam’s communist north and United States-backed South during the country’s war. The area was left shattered by bombs during the decades-long conflict. Years after the fall of Saigon and reunification in 1975, hundreds and thousands of people had fled the communist orthodoxy and poverty in hopes that they would have a better life overseas. Many of the people who risked their lives, now called boat people, died at sea, while others ended up in camps in Hong Kong. However, some of the more fortunate people found their way to Australia or the United States.
In An Bang, there has been an influx of foreign cash from those relatives, resulting in a competitive tomb-building spree. Families are eager to build some of the most extravagant graves in the plot with the money they have been sent. As the cemetery has grown, and still continues to grow, it has become a very famous attraction throughout Vietnam. This is putting the local communist leadership in a tough spot.
A local official, Hoang Dinh Xuan Thinh, said that the local authorities don’t encourage those giant tombs. The authorities there have run many communication campaigns, trying to discourage the locals from expanding the graves. However, it hasn’t worked whatsoever. Thinh said that he believes making those tombs is a waste of money.