To Dong Hai
Once a fairly large ethnic group, having resided along Nam Non and Nam Mo rivers in areas stretching on both Vietnamese and Lao territories, O Du now only has a population of around 30 people staying in the communes of Huu Khuong (or Xop Tam as called by these ethnic minority people) and Yen Hoa (or Xieng Men), of Tuong Duong district, Nghe An province after a large section of its people had mingled with people of the Thai and Kho Mu ethnoses so deeply that they could not remember their stock.
The O Du people’s language belongs to Mon-Khmer language family, but now most of them cannot speak their mother tongue and have to borrow the Thai and Kho Mu languages for daily communications.
Yet, despite all these, O Du is still considered a separate ethnos as its people have had a strong sense of ethnicity, who, when getting old, return to use their mother tongue, remember the life their forefather once led, the stories related to the land, the rivers and cultural relics left behind by their forefathers.
The O Du people live in small patriarchal families where men decide all family affairs and women have no right to inheritance. Patrilocal marriage is widely practiced though matrilocality is still observed for a given time, usually several years, by newlyweds. If the grooms come from better-off families, they can stay matrilocally for only one year when they family pay the brides’ families a sum of money, called “klay glay” money, to buy the girls home, which is valued at three bars of ten liang of silver.
During their matrilocality, the grooms are called after their wives’ names and shall bear their own names after returning to their homes at the end of the matrilocal period. By then, the wives shall in turn bear their hushands’ names.
For the wedding ceremony, in addition to the “klay glay” money, the groom’s family shall have to prepare a tray of special dishes according to O Du customs, which include smoked squirrel (or rat) meat and salted fish, to worship the bride’s ancestors.
After the couple makes their kowtows before the bride’s ancestral altar and show up themselves before the two families, the match maker shall wait for the lucky hour to conduct the “live-principle matching” ritual for the couple before the “house ghost” altar to the witness of the two families of the groom and the bride. Later, the match maker brings a cup of alcohol and a boiled egg for the couple to drink and eat together, and roll their hair together with sticky rice, tie up their wrists with thread. Finally, according to the O Du customs, he invites each member of the two families a cup of sticky rice alcohol as a toast to the happiness of the newlywed and the certification of their marriage.
When giving birth to a child, the woman has to sit in a corner of the compartment reserved for the female in the family. The newborn’s placenta is put into a bamboo section for burial right under the house floor corner where the child was born. The child is considered being one full year of age when the first thunder explodes after his/her birth and only by then can a ritual be organized to give the child a name.
As customary, the dead persons shall also wait until the first thunder comes to be considered really dead with their souls actually leaving for “the other world” and never returning to this world. Similarly, the widows and widowers have also to wait until the first thunder after the decease of their better halves for remarriage, if any.
The day when the first thunder in the year explodes was formerly considered the biggest festival of the O Du people in the year, which was called “Cham phtroong tr’may”, during which buffaloes and pigs were slaughtered as offerings in rituals to worship earth and heaven.
To the O Du people, a person has two souls. The original soul, called “Mee dlung”, resides on his/her head top, which shall, after such person dies, become the house ghost, called “bua ding”, resides on the house ghost altar and be worshipped by the family members. The second soul, called “mee neo”, inhabits in the dead body and stays in the graveyard .The people of this ethnic group thought that their destinies were greatly influenced by the house ghosts which always stay in their houses, on the family altars. When the father dies, he would become the house ghost and stay with his eldest son. When the eldest son dies he would become the house ghost of his family, hence the father’s house ghost would leave to stay in the elder son’s house. When all sons in a family die, a ritual shall be organized to see off the house ghost to live with the ancestors.
O Du customary laws uphold monogamy and strictly forbid adultery. Incest is considered a grave offense and severely punished.
Patriarchy has prevailed all aspects of the O Du social life, where the women have held inferior positions in the family and the society as well, the daughters could not inherit property left by their parents and totally depend on their husbands’ families.
People’s private ownership right has been respected and protected by the entire community. Any acts of infringing upon such right, like robbery, burglary, have been strongly condemned by the people and severely punished by customary laws. The recidivists would be expelled from the community.
It is thanks to all their customs, practices and folk laws, the O Du people cohere together into an ethnos with its own fine traditions and cultural identity. Such customs, practices and traditions would contribute no little part to building a healthy cultural life for the O Du people if their positive elements are well preserved and brought into full play in the social life of the people of this ethnic group.-