We reached the Jarai indigenous community, living in a restricted area in the Gia Lai province, on a caravan of elephants. Obtaining the permit took me a lot of time and money.

The Jarai from the Malayo-Polynesian group, after having fought off Hanoi’s interference several times and the failed attempts to civilize them, live in seclusion, keeping their old customs and language. Nobody speaks Vietnamese. The Vietnamese contemptuously called them “mio&, meaning savages, and Laotians call them “kha” – slaves.

These authentic aborigines, disarmingly gentle, have lived for two millennia in the Annamite Highlands. They have always tried to stay isolated, taking advantage of the land’s inaccessibility. They did not respect the French during their Indochina domination. The communist authorities repeatedly made efforts to “Vietnamise” them, but these always ended in a fiasco.

The chief of the tribe hosts us with a specific aperitif, ruon ghe, fermented rice vodka, used in various ceremonies. Then we have dinner. In addition to rice, there are pieces of stewed snake in a spicy sauce and something fried that initially resembles little birds. The translator explains that it is a special delicacy prepared for important guests, fried field mice. In my travels around the world, I have eaten the most exotic dishes, but this time I could not bring myself to try it.