Dimen Dong Cultural Eco Museum


In her 2008 National Geographic article “Village on the Edge of Time,” Amy Tam asked: “What is an unwritten Dong song if there is no one left to remember it? How many other traditions of Dong life would soon be lost?"

Help came from outside of the village. It was a foreigner who first realized the value of Dimen’s heritage and started taking steps to preserve its culture. Lee Wai Kit, a Hong Kong scholar, publisher and entrepreneur, founded the Dimen Dong Cultural Eco Museum in 2004 to serve as a base for researchers to come and participate in the study and preservation of the Kam indigenous culture. The village itself was defined as a living, ever evolving part of the Museum.

Since then, the Museum has helped incorporate the Kam language and traditions into the local school curriculum. In conjunction with academic partners, it has documented the local oral traditions and songs, architecture, various crafts and agrarian practices. Its staff has trained hundreds of children in Kam songs. The Museum’s 100 Dong Songs program received the US National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in International Spotlight category.

The museum has been an integral part of the Kam Minority project, at first providing resources and staff during documentary stages. Now once its staff have been trained in screen-printing methods, the Museum oversees artisan training and production of artifacts that are sold locally and abroad to support the Dimen community. The US and Dimen teams work hand in hand, coordinating documentary, educational, production and marketing efforts long distance during the year and through targeted projects in Dimen in the summer.

Visit the museum website (designed by Lee)


The "Living Museum"
from Dawn of the Butterflies by Marie Anna Lee, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Forethcoming

The last wind-and-rain bridge marks the edge of the village. Past it lie the grounds of Dimen Dong Eco Museum. Its buildings do not actually house any artifacts since the cluster of villages around Dimen is considered the living exhibit, but it does support community activities and accommodate visiting researchers. The village inhabitants present their traditions and live their culture through everyday activities.

Overlooking the village as well as the fields that fill the valley and the hill slopes that surround it, the museum is a quiet oasis where enchanting yet practical architecture meets natural beauty, and technology mixes with tradition, offering comfort without violating the Kam aesthetics. Built with local ingenuity, the buildings fit seamlessly into the hills around it.

The museum consists of multiple buildings connected by covered pathways constructed of wood. The first open pavilion introduces the village crafts, displaying some tools and large posters of artisans at work. Children often come to play cards there. Countless ducklings are raised underneath this pavilion, peeping unseen underneath the guests’ feet as they walk through the building.

A wooden stairway leads through a green tea garden to a gathering pavilion where small-scale performances and singing classes take place. It is raised above a pond with water lilies. Ducks floating on its surface serve as alarm clocks in the morning and guards during the day, loudly announcing people’s arrival. The stagnant water is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, making the room practically uninhabitable in the evenings.

To the right is a large dining hall with countless Western-style tables and chairs. A kitchen, a pantry, and few toilets hide at the back. The staff quarters are above the hall. A luxury pavilion is located past the hall with a splendid view of the village. It accommodates the most honored visitors. Two long lodging houses with multiple rooms are above the “mosquito room.” The rooms are spacious and comfortable for a short-term stay. Workshop areas are conveniently located underneath the guest rooms. One has looms where staff weave cloth and flower belts, and roast tea. The other has a dirt-packed floor and serves as storage at present. Mushrooms, often served by the kitchen, grow on logs in its shade.

Behind the left guesthouse, a spacious library is filled with books donated from abroad. The second floor houses a few more rooms and a common area with a breathtaking view of fields and rising sun in the morning. A sweet fruit wine aroma lingers from large ceramic jars underneath Mr. Lee’s house at the very end of the complex.

Tea, indigo, vegetables, and fruit trees grow in between the houses. Flowers bloom here and there. A cat and her kittens linger around the kitchen always looking for scraps from the tables. A few chickens run in the courtyard by the kitchen. The quiet air is pierced three times per day by pigs squealing in delight at the sight of food in the pigsty down by the river. Bright green frogs hide in banana leaves or croak in the shallow stream that feeds the pond. Enormous brown-and-gold-streaked moths sleep the day off hidden underneath wooden beams while large black spiders make their webs in hopes of catching them in flight.

We have the museum to ourselves most of the time. There are a few guests from time to time. A group of writers works quietly on a book. A marketing person wants local women to weave hand-made fabric for a French designer. Groups of mainland tourists wander through the grounds and peek everywhere on the weekends. Sometimes government-officials spend the night experiencing the minority culture. Children come from the village for singing lessons every Saturday morning.