To Dong Hai
ChuRu is an ethnic minority group with a population of 10,746 people (according to the 1989 census figure) who live largely in Lam Dong and Ninh Thuan provinces and part of Binh Thuan and speak the language of the Malayo- Polynesian language family. Though differently called as “Kado”, “Kodu”, “Pnong Cham”, “Cru”... by neighboring nationalities, this ethnic group has its official name as ChuRu meaning in their own language the “land reclaimer”. Is it true that such name tells of the origin of ChuRu people who have come from other regions then settled down in such areas? According to researchers, the ChuRu is closely associated to the Cham group with many racial, lingual and particularly cultural similarities. There is a hypothesis that the ChuRu was part of the Cham group living in the central coast of Vietnam, who left their native place to find new land then settled down.
The ChuRu people have long practiced rice farming with fairly rudimentary tools such as hoes, ploughs, harrows..., which were all made of wood until recently. They are experienced in building irrigation projects such as dams, cannals to conduct water into their fields. In each hamlet (called “play”, “ploi” or “palay”), a person is charged with irrigation work, who is called “Po ea” (master of the water) or “Po muar bo nu” (dam construction master), respected by hamlet people and tasked to organize farming rites.
In addition to wet rice farming, the ChuRu people have also practiced milpa cropping and gardening to create additional sources of food and vegetable. Raising horses and particularly buffaloes which are considered their “price unit” to determine the value of other things is common. Hunting and forest product gathering still play an important role in the economic life of the ChuRu people while such handicrafts as bamboo or rattan weaving, smithery, pottery have also been developed in service of their production and daily life. Particularly pottery has been all done by women, which is possibly inherited from the Cham. It can be said that the ChuRu pottery is left with the traces of a natural self-sufficing economy restricted within the hamlet. Commodity economy has not yet appeared in the ChuRu community. Surplus products are exchanged within this ethnic group or with others.
Hence, the traditional ChuRu society was built on the basis of hamlets (play, ploi or Palay), each of which embraces residential land, arable land, irrigation network (dams, cannals...), forests, rivers, streams..., marked off with natural boundaries recognized by other hamlets. A hamlet is headed by a man elected among the most prestigious, respectful and reliable elders. The hamlet chief guides people in productive labor, the maintenance of customs and practices as well as daily life activities. He consults other aged people in the settlement of important affairs in the hamlet. Yet, the true spiritual master of the hamlet is the sorcerer called “yuh” or “gru” who organize and conducts all communal and family rituals.
Forests, mountains, rivers and streams belong to the entire hamlet community; every hamlet dweller is entitled to hunting and fishing therein and at the same time has the responsibility to protect and maintain such resources. Meanwhile, the residential and arable land is owned by big families (with people of various generations) or small families (split up from big families), which can be traded in. The land transfer was organized ceremoniously and publicly before the entire community, particularly children who shall act as future witnesses of the land sale and purchase. In addition to the payment of a sum of “money” (valued in the number of buffaloes or other valuables such as gongs, jars), the land buyer shall have to bear all the costs of the ritual (offering animals, alcohol and chicken for children). When a land trade-in was completed, a big stone slab painted with blood of the offering animal is buried at the edge of such land plot to indicate that it already has its owner. However, the land is placed under the management of the patriarchs who are the only persons to permit the land transfer, sale or purchase.
In the ChuRu society, the big family bears matriarchal the traces of matriarchy. Each family is headed by an old woman while her brothers play an important role as family consultants. Only the youngest daughter in the family is entitled to inheritance. Living in a big family under the same roof are people of three to four generations. Land, cattle, farm tools are common property; the labor products including food are stored in a common warehouse for their daily use.
The ChuRu people follow monogamy. Men live with their wives’ families. Children bear the mothers’ family names. According to ChuRu customs and practices, girls take initiative in marriage. When a girl has found the man she loves, she reports it to her parents and family. If her choice is baptized, a match-maker, her uncle or elder sister shall be sent to the man’s family for a marriage proposal. If the man’s family accepts the proposal, the marriage-proposing ceremony shall be held, where the girl’s family give presents to the man’s and the match-maker follows the procedures to put the engagement ring on the man’s finger. The two sides then discuss the wedding day and ceremony which is often solemnly held for three to four days depending on the economic capability of the bride’s family. After the wedding, the bride shall stay in her husband’s home for some 15 days before escorting the bridegroom to her family. Lately, there have been cases where boys proposed the marriage and took the brides to their homes, but their children still bear the mothers’ family names and the husbands, when dead, shall be buried in the graveyards of their wives’ families.
The ChuRu customary laws forbid adultery which, to the people of this ethnic group, is an insult to deities and may affect their crops, cattle raising and the safety of the entire hamlet. The adultery committers shall be brought for trial before the customary law court. Yet, rich people can get concubines if so consented by their official wives and approved by their patriarchs and hamlet chiefs. A widow can marry an elder or younger brother of her deceased husband after being in mourning for the latter for one year. Meanwhile, a widower can marry a younger sister or a niece of his deceased wife so as to continue to live with the wife’s family and use their property.
It can be said that ChuRu customs and practices, excluding the backward ones which were formulated from time immemorial, have been passed from generation to generation till today and preserved in the form of customary law and contain positive elements such as the consolidation of the communal unity to create the sustainable development of the ChuRu traditions. If their positive elements are fully promoted and negative ones restricted or eliminated, the ChuRu customs and practices shall play no little role in supporting the enforcement of State laws in areas inhabited by the ChuRu people.-