Ancient Indochina. Suite et fin.


We are coming to the end of our journey. A travel in time and space starting in Ancient Indochina between 1896 and 1905. As I said in the first part of this series, it is an old photo album bound in beige cloth, my brother bought at a flea market in Paris and gave me as a birthday present. We’d both lived briefly in Vietnam and Cambodia (Muuuch later than those photos) ๐Ÿ™‚

There are very few legends on those last pictures. The young woman above is captioned “Fa rรฉ” or “La rรฉ” woman. Couldn’t find any reference to such a tribe. Only a “H’re” tribe which would not fit geographically. I would have said she belonged to a Meo tribe, by her dress. There were many tribes in Indochina each with its own culture. I just read that Meo is now regarded as “derogatory”. (No offense meant). Some apparently now classify those tribes within the Hmong o Mong group. I don’t know. (Emoticon of throwing hands in the air) All pictures were taken between 1896 and 1905. All photos in this post are assumed to have been shot in Tonkin, northern Vietnam.


“Fa rรฉ” women in front of their thatched houses. (A note to the prude. I thought about editing the young woman on the right. Decided against it. In many parts of South East Asia, all the way dow to Bali, in many cultures women were bare-chested up to the fifities. Honni soit qui mal y pense)

In most of those “hill tribe cultures” clothes were hand woven by the women. A tradition that still goes on I believe in some parts. (Same hand looms are still used in remote areas of Chiapas in Mexico) Note the bead necklace on one of the women .


See how one the children is carried, bungled in a length of cloth. An age-old custom, one can still see in many parts of the world, from Africa to Latin America. Leaves your hands free. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Thumb-up emoticon)


Fa rรฉ men? The thatched house is probably a “Big House”, where several related families live, a custom spreading all the way to Malaysia, Indonesia, Irian Jaya and New Guinea.


Tribal women and children. On the right, the little girl’s distended stomach can be a sign of malnutrition.


Tribe children. An eager would-be warrior on the right.


Fa re, Meo (?) warriors. See the spears, shields and bows. Mostly used for hunting game in the forest.


Change of scenery. What I assume is the entrance to a French military fort. Not much in terms of fortifications. I assume, based on previous captioned photos this to be the fort of Dong Trienh. Somewhere in Tonkin. Couldn’t find its current location.


Colonial infantry Vietnamese soldiers. We’ve seen the curious hat, or helmet in previous posts. See the Clairon (Bugle man) on the left. The first row kneeling with their rifle at the ready. Approximately 30 men. I would say your average section. (A platoon in other armies) Generally under a lieutenant or sergeant-major. According to my memories in the military: 4 sections make a company. I was infantry in the 3rd company. (Company C in the US) 4 fighting companies plus support companies make a regiment (battalion) etc. etc.

And wait, wait! I finally found the bl..dy uniform: “Tirailleurs Tonkinois”. ๐Ÿ™‚ Who cares, right?

Thinking about the dates (1896-1905) those young soldiers probably escaped WWI. Good.


The soldiers’ barracks or the officer’s?


Logement des gardes. Soldiers barracks.

That is the building where the soldiers were photographed earlier.


My guess: the stables. There is a white poney in the left stable. Which we will see later on.


You may recall the tribesmen’ shields and spears above. Were those seized, or bought as souvenirs?


Quan Doc et chef L Ki. Quan Doc and Chief L Ki

The pencil handwriting is – already – very archaic, can’t guarantee the spelling. The two men wear the traditional Tonkin costume. Black robe and headgear, white “pajamas”.


The picture is of very bad quality. I did leave it for its strange caption: Fa Kua (Ta kua?) Chameleons. Chameleons? Hello? Help us there?


The above and following photos are more of a mystery. Those women and children are very well dressed. See the Chinese influence in the dress. Bead neclaces, Bracelets. See the very fine shoes. Who are they? the family of a local chief, or the members of the household? It was customary then to have many servants. And such elegance? Now watch carefully, the young woman’s left-hand nails are very long, a sign of elegance in Chinese influenced cultures. But her right hand? Nails are short. My bet? She probably is Thi-Bรข or Thi-Thoy. “First or second daughter” as maids were named when they entered a household. And the cute little boy is wearing what looks like a black sarong under a high collared white jacket.


I would say the same young woman. I like her “cocky” expression.


Fille de, daughter of, Hal. (Hat?)

See the gold or copper neckbands. And the embroidered shoes.


On the left, the same young woman as above. Black or white “pajamas”. The umbrella is both to protect from the sun and a symbol of elegance.



One of the very few people to warrant a name written down. A favourite? A concubine? Possibly.


Wooden shoes. Note the elaborate pendant on the child on the left. (All photos are taken roughly at the same staged location)


Hat? Hoit? (Look at the long nails on his left-hand. Possibly the Head of the servants?


Josรฉphine again. No caption, but recognizable.We will never know the story.

Remember, my friends. Take out your photo albums from the shelf NOW. Write your full name on it. “This album belonged to…”. Itย will be very helpful for future bloggers, when your great-grandchildren dump your albums at the nearest flea ย market in seventy years. The ancient Greeks used to say that if your name was remembered, whether for bravery, wisdom, or high achievements, you became immortal. So become immortal: write your name. (Reminds me I haven’t done it yet. Have to finish this post. Now)

Speaking of which, the owner of this album did not write his name. I assume it was a He. Did not even write down “moi” under a picture or the other. However, I believe the owner was this gentleman. No caption at all, no “moi” under the few pictures. Most photographers have few pictures of themselves. My guess is that this is the man who took us on a journey through Ancient Indochina:


No “Peter O’Toole” Lord Jim. Just a short frenchman with a waxed moustache and a funny beard. In line with that time’s fashion. A baggy uniform. Grade hard to tell. Thirtyish? Born around 1870, 1880 maybe? My grandfather was born in 1890. Somewhat contemporary. He fought in WWI. As a private. The family never did climb very high in Army echelons. (Except for one exception. But, that “Best beloved” is another story)


The “Author”, now in full parade uniform. Complete with sword. Shining boots. Black parade jacket. Riding (well) the nervous white poney we saw above in the stables.


“At ease”. Our likeky author, with a colleague. I can now tell his (their) grades: Lieutenants. Two stripes on their sleeves. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Text and Photos (c) BMO and Equinoxio.

Thank you for traveling with us. Le voyage est fini.

This post and all the series is dedicated to the people of Indochina. I know (I check my stats) that we have had many, many visitors from Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos. And I am very glad for that. Now, there are many uncertainties in those posts, if one or the other of our visitors from Indochina feels like commenting or straightening the errors of my way, that would be fantastic.

Bon, good, buen week-end, to all, ร  tous, a tutti!

28 thoughts on “Ancient Indochina. Suite et fin.

  1. Guess these are what you needed up there:

    (if you’re on some not-so-recent-and-not-so-spyware Windows version – that is from Win95 to some Win7 – you may use my AddTags tool for useful HTML formatting and WP/Yahoo emoticons ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Thanks for this whole trip to the past. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Dragos. So good to hear from you. I’ve been away in time and space from the blogosphere all of summer.
      I will look at your emoticon links gladly. (Does ity work with Mac? If not don’t worry. I can manage: “emoticon of a puzzled face shrugging”
      (That one is difficult as happy faces do not have shoulders) ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I hope your summer went well. And that you’re happy.
      (Black sunglassed happy face)

      • Hi, Brian, glad to see you back. Admittedly I’ve been a little worried about your absence but always hoped you’d have better things to do for the summer than staring at the computer screen. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Unfortunately my tool was only designed for Windows (I wrote it on my Win98SE computer) so it won’t work on Mac. It also has big issues in Linux under WINE so it’s not recommended under such environment either. Sorry. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
        Anyway, you can go to Yahoo’s emoticons pages, look through the HTML, grab the links and paste them to a text file on your desktop, thne copy/paste them in your blog articles/comments when needed. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        As for the summer (and the whole year, actually) I’d rather not say anything because there’s nothing nice to say about it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Today I was about to get my power line cut due to a missed bill and last night one of my monitor’s power sources broke – yep, the 98SE machine’s. Hopefully you had a better year so far. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Never say never Brian, the power of social media and the internet might unlock the mystery, perhaps the mystery is more enticing though? Still, it would be wonderful to know, she is named after the Empress herself after all!! Beautiful photos, quite extraordinary. Trust all’s well? Paul

    • Quite right. Those photos are now (well) tagged. I was surprised to find one on a Google research I did on Indochina. So, maybe, someone, somewhere will recognize one the other people displayed. Hey that’s my grandfather, grandmother. And yes, I had not realized, “Josรฉphine” was named after the Empress. Glad you enjoyed the post(s). It was quite a pleasure (and work) for me to post those. Tot ziens. Brian

  3. Thank you for a wonderful tour through an area I had no knowledge of. I wonder how it has all changed now? Any recent photos? Hugs

    • Thanks Scottie. My most recent photos of that region are from ’56. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have put more recent photos in one post of that series though. It is interesting to see. lemme check which post it was. It’s an elephant in my garden, but you’ve seen it. Have a nice week-end. Brian

  4. Here’s a piece I noticed that is curious and yet understandable in the first photos of females: girls, those not yet into puberty, went bare chested as did nursing age women, but the girls in puberty has covered chests. It’s interesting because in some ways, it’s not so different today when girls going through puberty don’t quite know what to do with their bodies and don’t like the changes (some of which, like growing breasts, are painful). It could also be a custom that hid or shielded the teen girls from inquisitive males before marriage. Or it could have been a signal the girls were now marriageable.

    Thanks so much for this journey and for the tip to write our names and birthdates perhaps in our albums. That’s a great idea. J.

  5. Brian, what a lovely birthday gift from your brother. Fantastic photos and history. I may be sentimental, I can’t help but wonder about the owner of the photo album, and all the possible reasons he and any family or friends might have been separated form the photos. The good news, the photos have a wonderful owner. ๐Ÿ™‚ Please enjoy your Sunday evening and have a wonderful week ahead. ~ Mia

    • Thanks – on all counts – Mia. I totally agree with you about the owner. What eventually happened to him? Why did his family “dump” the album at the flea market? Somewhat sad really. But it happens. The good news ๐Ÿ™‚ the photos have now been spread worldwide. This series has probably had close to 2,000 views. (Need to check my stats). I still cling to the hope that someone, someday, will post a comment: “Hey” This was my great-uncle, Lieutenant X!” ๐Ÿ™‚
      Enjoy your week. B.

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