Author name: Rebecca Hecht

Mother Goddess Worship in Vietnam

Wikipedia Religious Freedom Map

Wikipedia Religious Freedom MapAlthough Vietnam is in name a Communist state, the practice of mother goddess worship  endures through much of the country.  Mother Goddesses are thought to represent heaven, earth, water, mountains, and forests.  They are celebrated in rituals as symbols of fertility and creation.  For the first time, the worship of Mother Goddesses is on display at a public museum in Hanoi.  The exhibition, “Worshiping Mother Goddesses: Heart – Beauty – Joy,” opened at the Vietnam Women’s Museum on 5 January 2012.  Its installation comes after two years of research among practitioners by the Vietnam Women’s Union.

Organizers of the exhibition reported approval difficulties with local authorities. According to anthropologist and Mother-Goddess-worship specialist Professor Ngo Duc Thinh, these problems are unsurprising, “since in the past, the worship was seen as superstition.”  However, signs suggest a change, since Mother Goddess worship is at last “being officially acknowledged in modern society.”  The ritual may be proposed as an UNESCO cultural heritage.  This exhibition may be the first step towards greater recognition and appreciation of the ritual, as Vietnamese anthropologists propose to found a private museum focused on the worship of Mother Goddesses.

Overall, Vietnam is generally regarded as having a relatively low level of religious freedom, as indicated in this admittedly highly problematic Wikipedia map. Vietnamese human rights activists have recently accused the government of discriminating against religious minorities, especially among the country’s tribal populations.

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Protests on the island of Réunion

Wikipedia Map of France and its Overseas Possessions

Wikipedia Map of France and its Overseas PossessionsFrench news outlets are reporting “spontaneous and unorganized” outbursts of violence on the island of Réunion, one of France’s overseas departments.  Protests against the high cost of living and rising prices of fuel exploded several days ago.  In the administrative capital, Saint-Denis, the quarter of Le Chaudron is littered with stone and broken glass after violent clashes Wednesday night.  Protestors also burned cars in Saint-Denis and Le Port, both located in the northern parts of the island.  Saint-Benoît, a commune in the east, also experienced disorder.

The Mayor of Saint-Denis, Gilbert Annette, made an appeal for peace Thursday morning on public radio.  He emphasized the necessity of finding a solution to Réunion’s high youth unemployment and lack of purchasing power among low-income inhabitants.  He urged the state to “take exceptional measures for Réunion.”

Le Chaudron, one of the most heavily populated districts on the island, is known for violent protests.  In 1973, demonstrations led to clashes with France’s riot control police, the Comapgnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS).  The 1991 “Événements du Chaudron” were a series of riots marked by skirmishes between young protestors and the police, the use of Molotov cocktails, and the torching of cars and stores.  This latest outburst of socioeconomic tension continues.

Similar conflicts have occurred in other French overseas departments in recent years, including Mayotte and Martinique.

(By Rebecca Hecht)

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