Ancient Indochina. Part 5.


Tambours et fanfares. Drums and music of a military squad

Back by popular demand (!) in the streets of Hanoï and elsewhere we follow the steps of the unknown photographer in Tonkin around 1905. The military just loooove their music!


Une rue de Hanoï. (Coolies) in a Hanoï street. 

The workers are using the extremely clever asian pole carrying system. Allows to rest the weight on the shoulders and, of course, carry double weight.

74 hanoï-1a

Enterrement à Hanoï. Burial in Hanoï. (Note the wide straw hats on the right)

To most people, especially Americans, Hanoï would evoke the Vietnam war. I’ve never been to Hanoï, just Saïgon, between the two wars, the French and the American. My mother would take three-year old little me for a walk on Rue Catinat. On a leash! Little boys tend to run everywhere. So the leash was to make sure I did not stray too far away. Happened only once. When I realized that the little vietnamese boys we crossed on the street were having the laugh of their lifetime at my expense, I flatly refused to go out on a leash the next day! 🙂

74 hanoï-3

A street in Hanoï. Circa 1905. As all those photographs.

74 hanoï-4

Marchand de bois. Wood cutter. Hanoï


Balançoire du pays. A local swing.

Look closely. Right of the poles, the ropes almost parallel to the ground. The man in the white pajamas flying? A great swing. I want one like that.


Arrivée du Gouverneur. Arrival of the Governor. (In Birmin’ham they lov’ the Gov’nor)

A fine display of colonial helmets styles and fashions. The British high helmet (center) and the French flat helmet, to the right, speaking to a Mandarin (judging by the embroidered chinese costume). I’v already mentioned the Mandarinat system inherited by the Vietnamese from the loooong Chinese domination, a system by which, through extremely difficult literature and calligraphy exams, one, regardless of social origin could become a high ranking civil servant. System apparently maintained by the French. (We looove our elite schools!)


Cortège des examinateurs. The jury (?)

The examiners are in lighter, embroidered, Chinese-style dress. They’re also the only ones to wear shoes. Their retinue goes bare feet holding large round umbrellas against the sun.


Les examinateurs. (Again I’m a bit at a loss as to how to translate. The jury of Phd’s?)

See the examiners’ headdress with wings. A style that was already in fashion in China around the 6th century AD.


Vacherie des environs d’Hanoï. Cow-farm near Hanoï.

Far from the elaborate literary exams of the Mandarines.


Un tigre de Soon Don Keo (Cambodge). Tiger hunt in Cambodia.

I wavered a tad about posting this one. The beginning of the end for the tigers. Though tiger hunting was a long tradition in Asia. Long before the Europeans came and made it a sport. Along with a few Rajahs in India. But it’s part of this photographic journey into the beginning of the century. The last one. i’m still not getting used to it. Neither the new century nor tiger hunting.


Dong Anh. Maison du conducteur de T.P, constructeur du chemin de fer, au loin la gare. Dong Anh. House of the civil engineer building the railroad. The station is to the left.

Allow me to venture a bold comment: one now imagines “Colonialists” living luxury lives in beautiful mansions. (Not the case in my personal experience in post-colonial Africa). That is a simple thatched-roof house where the French civil engineer lived while building the railroad. With a lot of “coolies” of course!

Dong Anh is a rural district of Hanoï, north of the city. (Thank you Kikipedia). Just checked. 🙂


Dong Anh. Paul Lallement, conducteur des TP et son ami Philippe. Paul Lallement, civil engineer and his friend Philippe.

I like the impeccable white suit and shoes. The uplifted moustache. Philippe is a blurred rhesus monkey perched on the bird-house. How can one possibly befriend a monkey beats me! (See The monkey incident in this very blog)


No caption here. Just the title “Tonkin”. I assume a french lieutenant (two stripes on his sleeves). No name. See how tiny the horse is, barely poney-size. Not more than 9-10 hands.


No caption either. Looks like the same officer with his local troops and soldiers. All armed and ready for war.


Poste de Dong Anh en construction. Dong Anh military post under construction.


Dong Trien Face sud. Dong Trien southern side. 1896.

Couldn’t find “Dong Trien”. The hand writing is not easy to decipher after more than a century. Maybe it is Dong Tien? If such were the case, it would south of Da Nang a place of terrible fighting in the Vietnam war.


Le Comorin (brulé dans le port de Marseille en 1895). The Comorin, burnt in Marseille harbour in 1895.

Notice that it is a dual steam and sail ship. See the chimney in the centre and the two masts. It was a commercial armed ship. (Merci Boogle)


Dong Trien (Tien?) repiquage du riz. Rice re-planting.

Peace at last. After so many uniforms. What more peaceful activity than the age-old, almost eternal Asia-wide activity of re-planting the rice?

This has been a slightly longer post than usual. Our journey in Ancient Indochina is nearing its end. As I was looking again at those old photographs of men in uniforms around 1900, and thinking of the two bloody wars that followed there – and elsewhere -, I also remembered an old Latin phrase: Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. As madmen rage around many parts of the globe, our globe to all, I wonder whether we are not back to these times. If we want peace, should we not prepare for war?

Thank you for visiting Equinoxio. (Visitors from Indochina are many and most welcome, but please do comment!)

And have a lovely peaceful week-end, all of you.

23 thoughts on “Ancient Indochina. Part 5.

  1. Another wonderful trip into the past from you. Thank you so much, Brian! 🙂

    As for peace… there is no such thing. Man is still a wild animal, a bloody carnivorous one that kills his kindred for fun or for their belongings. 😦

    • You’re welcome Dragos! And I do so agree about “the wild animal”. It is enough to mention the thousand or so Ethiopians and others who just drowned in the Mediterranean. And I just read that one the main “passers”, the guy who puts them on overloaded boats would be an Ethiopian too. At $2,000 a head, packing 500 people in a boat to a sure-death is a neat 1 million bucks almost net profit. 😦

      • I guess that’s just one of the many ways to follow the “advices” written on the Georgia Stones. May their souls reast in peace!

        More and more reasons to feel ashamed for sharing the race with such inhumane human beings. 😦

      • I didn’t know about the Georgia stones.
        Now, we can also be proud to share the same race with Botticelli, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Molière, Pasteur, Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi.
        The half-empty or the half-full glass?
        Take care

      • Here’s the Wikipedia link to the Georgia Guidestones: link
        Basically, first “advice” says “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 […]”. Some guys probably took it literally. 😦

        It’s true we had many valuable individuals throughout history, but you know how quickly and easily the bad overcomes the good. The rotten apple in the basket, but in reverse – the bad apple can’t survive a basketfull of rotten apples, not to mention turning them back to good apples. The entropy always prevails, it’s the way of the Universe and apparently we’ve got tired of fighting it willingly.

        The glass is cracked, whatever it’s in it is (not so) slowly flowing away down the drain…

        P.S. It shows I’m a pessimist, huh…? 🙄 Here’s how it goes with this stuff:
        The pessimist: – It can’t be any worse than that.
        The optimist: – Oh yes, it can!

      • ha!Ha! One thing pessimists and optimitists have in common is that neither are realistic! 🙂 Take care my friend.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, are you a historian? have peace you must have war…history is showing that this is true I wish it was not.

    I have threatened my daughter that I was going to buy a leash for my grandson needless to say she was not happy with me, but did admit she had thought about it too.

    • Not a historian. I’m an MBA! But I’ve watched history unfold over the years. Particularly the independence in Asia and Africa. So, for a post like that, I know where to look for to give readers a background. (About the leash, I beg you: no, no, no! No human being should ever be on a leash. 🙂 No Ma’am!)
      Be good

      • We opted out of the leash thing. Couldn’t get the thought that animals wear leashes and he is not an animal. A bit wild at times but no animal.

        I like the way you recap history.

  3. Brian, truly wonderful pictures, absolutely beautiful. Shame there isn’t one of the wild 3 year old creature on the end of the leash…modern parenting has lost a trick or two I think! Trust all’s well with you? From a remarkably hot Netherlands…

    • Fortunately that crime was not recorded on film. Otherwise I would have destroyed all the evidence! 🙂
      Tot ziens.

    • Thank you so much. I should have thought about it. “EU” is common termination in vietnamese. I was working with penciled legends written by the owner of the album a century ago. So he was holding the fort at Dong Trieu. That’s between Hanoï and Haiphong? not even close to the chinese border.
      Thank you, “merci” for this clarification.
      Take care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s