To Dong Hai
Cho Ro (also called Chrau or Jro) is one of the indigenous ethnicities residing on mountainous areas of southern Indochina. Some 15,022 people of this ethnic group (according to the 1989 census figure) live largely in southwestern and southeastern regions of Dong Nai province while a small number of them reside scatteredly in Thuan Hai and Binh Duong provinces. In spite of their increasing cultural and economic exchanges with neighboring ethnicities such as Kh’mer, Viet, which have, to certain extent, exerted impacts on various aspects of their life, the Cho Ro people have, in all circumstances, preserved their own cultural traditions, fine customs and practices.
Like people of many other ethnic groups, the Cho Ro used to lead a nomadic life, clearing land for the cultivation of maize, rice, manioc, sesame on their milpas (called “mir”) which are abandoned after 2 to 3 years of cropping due to soil depletion. Their main production tools are axes (called “xuong”) for felling big trees, cleavers (called “pra”) for cutting small plants and bushes, hoes (rao) for weeding, holing stick for seed sowing, reaping sickles (to knhel). In areas where wet rice is grown, people also use ploughs (called “la war”) and buffaloes.
Forest products gathering and stream fishing have also helped the Cho Ro people increase their income and improve their living conditions. Such handicrafts as textile, bamboo or rattan weaving... have less developed though almost every Cho Ro knows how to make essential things such as baskets, dossers for their own use.
The highest traditional social organization of the Cho Ro has been the hamlet where reside different ancestral lineages. Each hamlet is built on a separate area clearly demarcated from others. The hamlet chief (called Kuang Nomtom bri) is often the head of the biggest ancestral lineage in a hamlet. He runs all affairs in the hamlet, from production activities to the defense of the hamlet, the trial of violators of the hamlet’s rules and Cho Ro customary laws. He also represents the hamlet population to hold religious rites.
For the Cho Ro, the most important rituals in the year are the worship of jungle deity (called Cho Yang bri) and the worship of rice genie (Yang pa), which are organized at the beginning of a cropping season (around the third moon) in a vast and clean area in the hamlet. All families in the hamlet make offerings to deities with prays for good harvest and good health without any disasters and diseases.
A traditional hamlet of the Cho Ro accomodates many houses each of which is a separate family where people of two or three generations live together. Slave or hired labor is not seen among the Cho Ro, as is the gap between the rich and the poor. People in the hamlet volunteer to help one another in their production and daily life.
Every member of the hamlet community has to strictly abide by the rule of the hamlet as well as the customary law of the Cho Ro ethnicity. The hamlet chief and heads of the ancestral lineages shall have to oversee and urge the observance of such rule and customary laws by all hamlet inhabitants. Like in other ethnic groups, thefts and robbery are severely punished.
The Cho Ro people believe that deities and evil forces directly influence the human life. Therefore, they abtain from acts, conducts or statements that may offend deities or devils and make them fly into a passion. Anyone who violates this shall have to pay a fine to the hamlet and organize an offering worship to ask for forgiveness from deities or devils. The fine level shall depend on the nature and seriousness of the violation.
In the Cho Ro community, patriarchy prevails though the matriarchal traces are still seen here and there. For instance, in the family, the girls were entitled to inheritance as well as other interests. Usually, boys, when matured, shall ask matchmakers to find their better-halves; but sometimes people shall go and ask for boys’ hands for their daughters. Wedding ceremony was organized at the girl’s family and after the wedding the man shall live with his wife’s family for a certain period of time before the couple move out and live on their own if they are able to.
The Cho Ro customary laws forbid the marriage between a widow and her deceased husband’s younger or elder brother or between a widower and his deceased wife’s younger or elder sister, or the marriage between cousins. Adulteries and incestions are severely punished.
Meanwhile such laws permit a more liberal marital relationship. Cho Ro boys and girls can marry girls and boys from other ethnic groups. The widowers are, under the Cho Ro customary laws, left with full power to decide their future lives after their wives’ death. They may remarry or stay single and take care of their own children.
Nowadays, the cultural and material life in Cho Ro hamlets see many positive changes thanks to the intensified cultural exchanges between this ethnicity and others, particularly the Viet. The majority of Cho Ro people can read, write and speak Vietnamese, the universal language of the country, besides their own language. Their costumes and house structure are bettered. Having abandoned nomadism, the Cho Ro people now lead a sedentary life and farming, turning their milpas into fields and knowing how to improve soil for long-term cropping. Many backward customs and practices have been abandoned while others still govern different aspects of the Cho Ro people’s life. Therefore, the promotion of positive factors in the Cho Ro customary laws can not be ignored in the process of integrating this ethnic group into the great family of Vietnamese ethnicities.-