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Friday, September 18, 2020

The customary law of "Gie-Trieng"

Updated: 08:53’ - 26/07/2007

By To Dong Hai

 

The Gie-Trieng ethnic minority people live on a vast area stretching from Dac Glay district (Kontum province) to Phuoc Son district (Quang Nam province), excluding a section of them living on the Boloven Height of Lao. The Gie-Trieng population now stands at approximately 27,000 (according to the 1989 census figure, it was 26,924). Besides its popular name of Gie-Trieng, this ethnic group is also known as Ca Tang, Sop or Brila in Dac Glay; or Manoong or Ponoong in Quang Nam province.

People of this ethnic minority often lives on high mountains and jungles suitable for the growing of industrial plants and fruit trees. Their main crops are rice, maize, manioc and some other tuber plants, which are cultivated on two types of milpa: "Mir" built on sloping terrains (mountain slopes) for cropping about 2 to 3 years before abandoning them for 8 to 10 years to let forests recuperate and land get fertile again; and "Poh" milpa built on flat terrains along rivers, big streams, and cropped with rice, maize, vegetables, beans, etc.

Jungles where the terrain is slightly sloping and soil is fertile are often the favorite places to be chosen by the Gie-Trieng people for building their rice milpas. The jungle already chosen by people shall be cleared at first in a small patch where a small tree branch is planted to indicate that the area is already reclaimed and has its owner. People will plant on each type of soil an appropriate crop. For sowing the first seeds thereon, Gie-Trieng people often appoint young and healthy couples as the way to express their wish that the crops shall grow well without any diseases or drought. Picking jungle fruits and vegetables have played an important role in the life of people. A primitive way of cultivation is still maintained by the Gie-Trieng; when they come across any fruit or food trees, they will mark them to confirm their ownership thereover and tend such trees until they are harvested. Animals are raised to be used mainly as offerings to deities and when an animal is slaughtered its meat will be equally divided to people in the hamlet. During the harvest time, people often exchange their work. In the non-farming period, people practice bamboo weaving, textile or pottery, with part of their products being used to exchange for essential things.

Due to their nomadic life, the Gie-Trieng people's hamlet, called "play", is rather small, accommodating only 10 to 15 houses which may be built in lines or in a circle around the "Rong" (the communal house). A traditional house of the people of this ethnic group is the big house called "khul" which is partitioned into various compartments for various small families, called "nul". There are two types of house built by the Gie-Trieng: the house on stilt and the earth-wall house. Formerly in the areas of Xop Nglut and Muong Hoong there existed a type of very long house, which was at the same time a hamlet. It included a common compartment reserved for guests and all members of the hamlet, and small compartments for small families.

The Gie-Trieng society remains to be a closed one where traces of the clan society and relationship as well as old customs and practices have been maintained. The basic social unit of the Gie-Trieng is "play" (hamlet) which embraces many "khul" (big houses). The head of a "khul" is also the head of a family lineage, called "choong", and all "khul" chiefs are grouped into a council, called "welmi" which is responsible for running all affairs of the hamlet. It is composed largely of old people who are prestigious and knowlegeable about the customs and practices, have experiences in production and external relations and protect the interests of the hamlet. "Welmi" is also a customary law court which settles all disputes among hamlet inhabitants and hand down punitive measures against violators of the customary law. Most of such measures are determined with the amount of material things to be paid to the victim(s) and the hamlet community. Serious crimes shall be fined with gongs or alcohol jars while minor offences shall be fined with such animals as pigs, chicken, to be used as offerings to deities and compensation to the victims and the whole hamlet.

The private ownership of land, milpas has highly developed. A milpa owner may sell or give his/her milpa(s) to other people. Anyone wishing to farm unused milpas shall have to get permission from the owner. Deliberate violation of this rule shall lead to conflict(s) which, if not settled or reconciled, may last for years, causing a lot of killings.

There are in a "play" different lines of descent, each of which has its own legend and taboos. People of the same line are not allowed to marry each other.

In marriage and family life, the Gie-Trieng people have followed their own customs and practice. For instance, after the wedding, the couple will stay in the girl's family for 3 to 4 years until their first child is born, then they will move to live with the husband's family for the same period of time before returning to the wife's house again. Such rotary residence will continue until the parents of either side die, then the couple shall stay for ever with their alive parents. If a newborn is a boy, he shall bear the family name of his father; if it is a girl, she shall bear the family name of her mother. According to Gie-Trieng customs and practices, the girl shall take the initiative in proposing the marriage. If a girl loves someone, she shall be the one who expresses her feeling first. If the boy refuses, she may ask her friends to kidnap him. If the boy agrees, he volunteers to go to her in the evenings. In some locality, when a girl gets mature, her parents shall build for her a tower at the edge of the hamlet, which is used as a rendezvous place to meet her lover. The boy can come and sleep with the girl for not more than five nights. If past that time limit, the boy's family still fails to propose to the girl's family the marriage, the former shall be fined by the hamlet one pig and 10 jars of alcohol.

Usually when a girl and a boy love each other, their parents shall also approve, then two families secretly prepare for the wedding without disclosing this to other people. On the wedding day, the bride will secretely flee into jungle so that the family and hamlet dwellers go to fetch and take her home. Perhaps, this is the vestige of the wife-snatching custom of the Gie-Trieng people. After the bride is taken home, a ritual called "Bla" shall be organized, where people surround the jars of alcohol. The bride and the bridegroom will sit face to face in front of the person presiding over the wedding, who will take the couple's hands and place then on a chicken. Later, everyone shall take turn to touch that chicken. Those who refuse to do so shall not be allowed to attend the wedding. That chicken shall later be killed and cooked in mixture with rice. The bride and the bridegroom shall be given each a handful of cooked rice and a little of chicken liver. They eat a little then exchanged for each other. Later, the couple drink alcohol from the same bowl to end the first ritual. In some places, the young couple are allowed to sit in front of the match maker, to eat rice with soup, while in other places, the person presiding over the wedding shall beat the gong to gather people at the girl's house and send some young men to bring the couple back in. The girl and the boy shall have to lie together on a bamboo bed placed in the middle of the house.

Several months after the "Bla" ritual, the second ceremony called "Tava" shall be organized, where a pig is killed and divided into halves for both families and relatives to make a wedding party. The guests shall offer their presents to the couple and the families. Later, the two families shall organize a cordial party to let the bride and the bridegroom recognize the relatives. This ceremony is called "Talu". Several weeks later, the "loong" (firewood) ceremony shall be held, where the girl's family shall bring to the boy's family the firewood fetched by the bride. The pile of firewood shall be sprayed with alcohol in pray of deities for the good health and happiness of the couple. At this ceremony, the bridegroom's family shall present the girl's family with some bamboo-woven items while the girl's family shall give the boy's family a number of textile items. Finally, the "Cheo Yeng" (communal house-leaving) ceremony is organized and the couple shall leave the communal house to stay with their parents. After this ceremony, the person presiding over the wedding takes the couple home and places their hand on the offering pig. When the pig is killed, its blood is taken out, painting it on the wedding bed as a wish for many children to the couple.

The Gie-Trieng women give birth to their children in jungles. During the period of abstinence, a women is not allowed to enter the hamlet but has to stay in a hut built by her husband. The infant's placentas must be hung on a tree deep in the jungle. If a mother dies, her infant baby shall be buried together. Formerly, the Gie-Trieng people used to kill monosex twin infants. Twins of different sexes shall be kept alive and when grown up they have to marry each other. The Gie-Trieng customary laws forbid pre-marriage intercourses. If a women gives birth to a child before 9 months from her wedding, the couple shall have to stay in jungle and organize a buffalo-killing rite to pray the deities for forgiveness before they are allowed to move back into the hamlet. Formerly, people also used human blood to spray on their milpas and the hamlet boundary in order to do away with bad omens. For this, the people of Gie-Trieng killed a person of other hamlet or anyone who unfortunately got lost into their place in order to get blood for worship to deities. Now this barbarous practice, called "tuc san dau" (human head-fetching practice) has been abandoned though in some place the human victim is replaced by a wood dummy.

It is also customary that a Gie-Trieng is allowed to be carried home only after 10 days from its birth and into the house only through a newly opened small door in order to avoid all "impurities" for the house. Then, the big family shall organize a rite called "wieuli" to admit the baby into the line of descent. When still very young the baby is carried on the mother's back; when grown up, he/she follows brothers and sisters to work the field, go hunting or pick forest vegetables and fruits; when mature, he gets his teeth filed and sleep in the communal house. The Gie-Trieng people think that upon one's death, his/her ghost will turn into a bird flying back to his/her ancestors. Therefore, they only visit the dead's graves for a short period of time before abandoning them.

In the Gie-Trieng people's life, there have existed many customs and practices. Some are backward and should be done away with while others are of positive significance for their present life, which have contributed to strengthening the unity of their community and the preservation of their own cultural identity.-

VNL_KH1 

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