The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division , at sacred-texts.com
About 70 to 80% of the Vietnamese depend upon agriculture for their livelihood, and normally live in small towns and villages along the coast and in the Delta of Vietnam. The tribes-people of Vietnam, the Montagnards, who form about 5% of the population live in 50% of the land area of Vietnam which is composed largely of the mountains. Generally, the Vietnamese rice farmer (rice raising is the major farm activity) lives in small villages and walks to and from his various rice paddies. Sometimes small boats are used to reach these fields by means of irrigation canals and ditches and the rice crop is sometimes transported to the village by boat when harvested. Since these folk constitute the primary groups of people that the Navy/Marine Team contact daily in pacification efforts, it is well to understand their way of life.
The farmer's house is built normally for practical uses rather than beauty. It may have roofs composed of thatch or palm leaves, tile or due to the current struggle in Vietnam, tin. Some Americans have observed walls and roofs of houses made of uncut beer company tin with the various advertisements of the companies already printed on the metal. The story of how such commercially marked tin has reached such remote areas and strange usage without first being formed into beer cans would probably be an interesting one.
The house is normally made of such local materials as are available. This may include bamboo, straw, mud, and other products of the area. The mud may be daubed directly onto the plaited bamboo to form the walls. It may be shaped as brick which can be sun-dried as adobe or, in more rare cases, dried in regular kilns. With the current war effort, cement has joined tin as a material used whenever it is available, Whenever the house is made of mud or clay, the eaves of the thatched or tin roof are extended well over the walls so that the heavy rains of the monsoons will not wash the walls away. They also act as an aid to keep the house cooler in the hot sticky climate of the major areas of Vietnam.
The house of the ethnic Vietnamese peasant class is normally divided into three to five rooms of varying size. The main room is the central one in which the ancestor shelf holds the place of honor. Even in the poorer home, there is always a display of candlesticks, incense, scrolls, tapestries, burners, and a shrine which contains the ancestral tablets. These "sacred tablets" contain the names of ancestors through the fourth generation to whom devotion is encouraged and expected. Ancestral spirits are regarded as always present to witness happenings in the family. Most Vietnamese, regardless of what other religious faith is professed, are devotees of ancestor veneration, which has grown out of the Confucian teachings instilled in Vietnam by the Chinese occupation of over 1,000 years. Exceptions to veneration of ancestors are the animistic tribespeople, who fear spirits but do not worship ancestral spirits, and the Protestants who represent a small part of the Vietnamese population, The Vietnamese Roman Catholic Church permits ancestor veneration as a cultural expression of the commandment to honor thy father and mother.
The main dwelling, even in the village, is normally built in a V shape with space reserved for grandparents, parents and children. Servants and hired farm hands may be quartered either in the main house or small houses of their own in the same compound. The family compound also contains shelters for the oxen or buffalo, farm tools, grain storage, the inevitable pig sty and chicken pen. Often a small garden of vegetables,
a tank for storing rain water, as well as a pond or pool where the children and adults bath and wash both clothing and dishes, complete the interior of the compound which maybe enclosed in a wall of greenery. This screening wall of growing plants-areca palms, guava trees, mango trees, bamboo clumps, banana trees, etc.-protect the occupants from curious villagers and others who pass by.
The streets of many villages are little more than winding paths. The barking of numerous dogs and the presence of many small children, make the arrival of a stranger in "town" a well known fact within an exceedingly short time. The attitude of both children and adult villagers quickly reveal indifference, friendliness, hostility, etc., as determined by the action of previous Americans or the villager's awareness that Viet Cong agents are present and watching. An awareness of such simple but obvious factors, as well as an understanding of the multiple involved pressures on the villagers, can do much to aid the success of assigned missions. The attitude, reaction and action of every American is a vital consideration as the lowest man may cause the loss of many lives or may promote such rapport that many lives are saved by the simplest acts of kindness, consideration, concern, or interest. The American serviceman benefits many as he reveals interest in other people as human beings even if their language, their culture and their daily life patterns do differ from America.