To Dong Hai
“Chut” is an ethnos of the Viet-Muong language group, comprising some 2,500 people who live scatteredly in valleys of various communes of Minh Hoa and Bo Trach districts of the central province of Quang Binh.
Though small, this ethnos is divided into many subgroups: Sach, May, Ruc, Ma Lieng and Arem, the largest of which are Sach and May.
Once, the people of Chut used to live in areas near the Viet majority people, then have gradually moved deep into the mountainous regions to the West. According to documents, such people had migrated from Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Ha Tinh to Quang Binh during the 15th century under the Hong Duc time. They named themselves “Chut” meaning wall-like rocky mountain range.
The Chut people have lived mainly on slash-and-burn farming besides hunting and forest product gathering. Their farming has been carried out with two crops a year: the dry season crop and the rain season crop. In the dry season, people often cultivate their terraced fields with maize, manioc, bean and tobacco; and in the rain season, with rice and maize. Labor work has been assigned according to sex, with men taking heavy jobs such as slash and burn, holing for seed-sowing and hunting, and women performing light jobs such as seed sowing, harvesting, forest product gathering... Such form of collective labor as work exchange still exists in the society and collective hunting has been maintained till today. Their labor products have been distributed equally to people, as clearly seen through their collective hunting.
Having taken a nomadic life, the Chut people have lived in very simple and primitive shelters such as make-shift huts, mountain caves, rock canopies... Formerly when cotton was not yet grown and fabrics not yet woven, people of this ethnic group used to cover their bodies with stamped tree barks (called Kche in their dialect). In spite of their distinctively primitive life, the Chut people have maintained their own community ties under their own regulations.
A number of Chut families have been closely bound together in a group called “caven” which is possibly a form of their communial organization similar to “lang” (village) of the Viet people. Each “caven” is built on a separate area encompassing the residence quarter, cultivated land and forests under the management of such “caven”, which cannot be infringed upon by other people or other “caven”. When selecting places to build their terraced fields or milpa, people of a “caven” plant a pole, called “ple”, on such plots of land, showing that such land has already had its owner. Those who wish to settle down in a “caven” they must be permitted by people of such “caven”. Residing in a “caven” are people of the same blood line. A “caven” is headed by an old man called “Pu caven” (father of the caven) assisted by several elderlies called “Ngai Kamac”, who together discuss the village affairs such as rituals, settle differences and disputes within the “caven” or between members of their “caven” and members of other “caven”, consider and decide the settlement within the “caven” area by outsiders. “Pu caven” is also responsible for any wrong acts committed by such settlers. He also plays an important role in the spiritual life of the “caven”, presiding over rituals and worshippings. For this, people often call him “Cham Ru” (the mountain and forest caretaker). Yet, he is not entitled to any material benefits from his position except for some products donated voluntarily and at will by people.
The Chut society is organized with small-size patriarchal families, each of which lives separately on its own with a husband and his wife as well as unmarried children. After getting married, the sons have to leave their parents to live independently and the girls have to stay patrilocally. Such families are economically independent from each other and their ancestors are worshipped in the house of the head of the lineage or his elder brother when the former passes away. Only if the head of the lineage has no brothers shall such task be assigned to his sons or grandsons.
The Chut people have strictly adhered to monogamy. Cases of polygamy are hardly seen among the Chut community. Incest and adultery are considered violations of their customary laws and severely punished. Those who commit such offenses shall have to organize rites to worship their ancestors and the kitchen gods, asking for their forgiveness; if not, they would be penalized by deities.
The ownership over the family property has been acknowledged by the Chut customs, practices and customary laws which duly punish anyone who infringe upon other people’s property. This may explain why there have been almost no case of thievery, burglary and robbery within the Chut community. Perhaps due to the fact that family property include almost nothing valuable, the inheritance thereof has not been touched upon by the Chut’s customary laws. When a married son leaves his parents for his independent life, he takes nothing but some working tools such as a knife, an ax and a bow for hunting.
According to many researchers, Chut was an ethnos that had once witnessed a higher level of social development. Yet, throughout the process of historical development, this ethnic group had been pushed back into the circumstance with the living conditions being no better than those of the primitive time. The question here is to raise the Chut people’s material and spiritual life, helping them to abandon their nomadic life and settle down in fertile valleys. Only on the basis of a better material life for the people of this ethnic group can their cultural identities be brought into full play in order to enrich their life.-