Phat Duoi" convention of M’nong minority" />
The "Phat Duoi" convention of M'nong minority
Being a native ethnic group of the Mon-Kh’mer language family with a population of 67,340 (according to the 1989 census figure), the M’nong reside largely in the districts of Dak Nong, Dak Min, Dak H’lap, Lak, Krong Kno, Krong Bong...

By To Dong Hai

Being a native ethnic group of the Mon-Kh’mer language family with a population of 67,340 (according to the 1989 census figure), the M’nong reside largely in the districts of Dak Nong, Dak Min, Dak H’lap, Lak, Krong Kno, Krong Bong... of Dak Lak province, and the provinces of Binh Duong (formerly Song Be) and Lam Dong. Besides, the M’nong people live in subgroups known as R’oong, Piat, Prah, Prang, Dip, Nong... with customs and languagues different from those of the R’lam subgroups (or Gar, Kuanh in two areas east and west of Se Re Pok river).

The M’nong live mainly on milpa farming while such handicraft as yarn spinning, thread dyeing, textile, bamboo and rattan weaving, smithery... have strongly developed to satisfy the needs of a self-sufficing economy. Hunting and elephant domesticating have also been practiced by many M’nong people.

The M’nong live in various “bon” (hamlet) built at mountain feet near water sources such as rivers, streams, ponds, lakes. A “bon” is comprised of from one to several dozen houses surrounded by gardens of big trees. The M’nong houses are built in two types: the one-storey house which is considered the traditional way of house building, and the house on stilts- a style borrowed from the Ede ethnic group.

The families in a “bon” are bound together by blood or marital relations. The blood lines have been determined according to the maternal side. A traditional “bon” of the M’nong was headed by a “kroanh” or “R’nut” assisted by one or two assistants called “Ronor” or “R’nop”. The military commander of a “bon” was called “Ne Tam Lam Lor”. Boys and girls, when matured (about 15-16 years old), have to follow the teeth filing and blackening custom, called “Kat sek” or “Ot sek”. After filing their teeth (4 incisors and two eye-teeth of the upper jaw) to the gum, the young men shall have to join militia teams to defend their hamlets and inhabitants. Besides the teeth filing custom, the M’nong have also practiced the ear-piercing custom at the age of 5 to 6, which is called “chon tor”.

In the M’nong society, a system of customary laws in rhythmic proses, called “Nao mpring”, has been handed down from generation to generation, which governed various aspects of life: marriage and the family, customs and religion, civil dispute over properties, physical abuse...

Regarding marriage and family as well as the male-female relationship, the M’nong convention has prescribed them in details because these aspects have great impacts on the stability and development of the community. Under such rules, people of the same maternal blood line are not allowed to love and marry each other. Anyone who breaches this shall be considered having committed incestion; he/she shall be severely punished and complicated rituals shall be held to redeem his/her offense. If not, according to the M’nong traditional concepts, the community shall be punished by deities with epidemics, crop failure, fire, flood, or drought, etc.

Prior to the official wedding ceremony (called “Ndap”), the two families of the bride and the bridegroom shall, according to the M’nong rules, have to organize the engagement ceremony called “vang”. During the time between “vang” and “Ndap”, which may be from 2 to 3 years, if either party breaks the promise it shall have to compensate for all the offerings. In cases where the man or the girl loves other person during that period, he or she shall be fined with a set of gongs. If the girl gets pregnant before the wedding she shall be penalized by having to organize rituals to worship the animals (typically the elephant), worship every people in the community, etc. If the boy and the girl refuse to marry each other, the penalty shall be heavier.

A married person committing adultery shall be penalized by having to organize a baptizing ritual and pay the other spouse a buffalo, a pig and six valuable big-bellied liquor jars. In case of a divorce, the adulterer/adulteress shall have to cover the cost of his/her spouse’s remarriage.

When either spouse dies, the alive one shall have to organize a ritual to pray for his/her dead mate’s soul. If he/she fails to do so and has sexual intercourse with other person, he/she shall be penalized by paying the deceased’s family six buffaloes as well as all the wedding offerings and costs.

Regarding the community’s customs, practices and religion, the M’nong convention prescribes in details the penalties imposed on violators thereof.

For instance, if a person dies in a stranger’s house or in other hamlet, his/her family shall have to pay a buffalo and a valuable jar to such stranger or hamlet.

If a child is born at other people’s house, on the field or road, or if a child and the mother die in childbirth, severe penalties shall be imposed because all these breach the M’nong rules which also stipulate that a woman in childbirth shall, within 2 to 3 months, not be allowed to wash her clothes in water sources. If she fails to do so, she shall be fined and have to worship the water deity; if illness is caused to people in the hamlet, she shall be severely penalized.

The M’nong have also set strict rules to protect the individual’s inalienable rights regarding the safety of his/her life, health and body. Anyone who reviles, insults, beats or even causes death to other(s) shall be severely punished by having to pay a fine of pigs, buffaloes or even elephants.

If a child fails to obey or maltreats his/her parents, he/she shall be fined a pig and a jar of liquor to pray for the parents’ soul. Anyone who beats and causes injury to other people shall have to compensate the victim three valuable liquor jars and pay a fine of a pig and a jar of liquor to pray for the soul of the victim. A person who spreads disease to another person, intentionally or unintentionally, shall be heavily penalized. If the diseased person is cured, the disease spreader shall be fined 6 liquor jars and a buffalo and pay all the cost of the treatment. If the diseased person dies, he/she shall have to work as slave for the rest of his/her life for the dead person’s family.

Under the M’nong rules, thievery and robbery shall be severely punished.

The “Phat duoi” customary laws also define the trial, at which a judge called “kroanh phat duoi” shall question both involved parties. After hearing the arguments presented by the counsels of both the plaintiff and the defendant, the “kroanh phat duoi” shall, basing himself on the community’s convention, make the charges and bring in the verdict. If the defendant and his family fully execute the judgement handed out by the “kroanh phat duoi”, they shall continue to be considered members of the community without any discrimination. Any bias against the defendant who has already fulfilled his/her obligations shall also be condemned by the M’nong convention.

So, basically, the M’nong people’s “phat duoi” has become a tool to maintain and consolidate their traditional social institution. Even now, it still exerts its influence on the communal life of this ethnic group and governs all people’s conducts in the community.

However, some punitive forms defined in “phat duoi” such as compensation with gongs, jars or working as slaves are no longer suitable to the modern life, which should be replaced by pecuniary fine or compulsory labor. Only by doing so, can “phat duoi” exist and exert its impacts on the life of the M’nong people.-

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