Living in border zones

“Mountainland” is an ongoing long-term project by the photographer Sascha Richter that surveys the lives and societies of Zomia (upland Southeast Asia, India, China). The pictures presented here were taken as first part of the project in October 2016 in the Northwest of Vietnam. More parts of the series can be found here.



As Farish Noor writes in his article on ASEAN identity, the border zones of mainland Southeast Asia are of specific interest. Borderlines are porous and life around them does not stick to maps drawn by government officials throughout history.

Often, communities of ethnic minorities in the mountain lands are closer to their counterpart in a different nation-state than they are to the ethnic majority of the country they reside in. Cultural traditions, trade ties and politic history connect the Tai, H´Mong, Muong, etc. What they also share is their social status.

Most ethnic minority communities in the borderlands suffer from poverty, in Vietnam the poverty rate is 5 times as high as for the Viet people in the lowlands and twice as many people live directly from agriculture. Their agriculture practices, such as “slash and burn” are publicly disregarded by national policies as non-sustainable, not taking into account government practices that might be as harmful.