The “Rmam” ethnic minority's customary laws
Rmam is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Vietnam’s Central Highland with only 227 people (according to the 1989 census figures) who reside in two hamlets: Le and Rmam Ra of Mo Rai commune, Dak To district, Kon Tum province.

To Dong Hai

Rmam is one of the smallest ethnic groups in Vietnam’s Central Highland with only 227 people (according to the 1989 census figures) who reside in two hamlets: Le and Rmam Ra of Mo Rai commune, Dak To district, Kon Tum province. After many years of fierce wars, the Rmam population sank, leading to the merger of such two hamlets into one called Le-Rmam. By the early 20th century, the number of Rmam people had swollen in number and lived mingledly with J’rai Arap people in 12 hamlets. Besides the section of Rmam people living in Vietnam, which is called “Rmam Ale”, there exists another section of this ethnos in Cambodia called “Rmam Koo” or “Rmam Tchor”.

Rmam people use the Mon-Khmer language which is similar to that spoken by some subgroups such as Ha Lang and Kadong of neighboring ethnos of Sedang.

They live mainly on milpa farming, hunting, forest fruit and vegetable gathering, while handicrafts widely develop, particularly loom weaving with almost all families having grown cotton for textile largely for their own consumption. The Rmam women wear skirts and short-sleeve shirts while men wear loins, which are all made of plain cloth. The females wear ear-rings made of ivory (for the rich) or wood (for the poor), which are together with bracelets, considered the valuables used as wedding presents. It is a Rmam custom that girls and boys, when grown up, shall file 4 or 6 of their upper incisors.

The Rmam hamlet is called “de”. Each “de” is headed by an aged man, called “Kra de”, who is elected by the hamlet inhabitants. The Rmam hamlet is built in a uniform style with the communal house called “Rong” being located in the middle, the residential houses (long houses on stilts) facing the “Rong”, the common yard and children’s playing grounds running around the “Rong” and fences circling the hamlet. “Rong” serves as the venue for communal activities, the trials of customary law offenders, the youth’s entertainment and recreation.

In spite of its small population, the Rmam society is characterized by the transition from a clan society to a small-family society. Unlike the clan society of the Ede, J’rai… ethnic groups where people of the same lineages and different generations live in the same long houses, there has appeared in the Rmam community the small-family structure. Each small family has its own economic life, separate kitchen, with cultivation and husbandry products as its own property. Even though living under the same roof, small families exchange their surplus products. Besides the middle compartment reserved for activities of the big family, the long house is divided into compartments for small families, each having a separate cooking range, and with a corridor running through the middle of the house from the first to the last compartment.

Though being patriarchical, the Rmam society is left with many matriarchal traces. After their wedding, the young couple have to stay with the bride’s family for 4 to 5 years before moving to stay peRmamently with the bridegroom’s family. Or they can live alternately between the two for such period of time until the parents of either side die, whereby the couple will settle down with their living parents.

The marriage between cousins is strictly forbidden while the marriage between a widower and a younger, not elder, sister of his deceased wife or between a widow and a younger, not elder, brother of her deceased husband is permitted by Rmam law but only at their own will without any coercion. Also under the customary laws of the Rmam people, the marriage between two brothers and two sisters is acceptable. Rarely seen in the traditional family life of the Rmam people is the divorce which is only permitted for the newly weds if they find unsuitable for each other after several days of their marriage, but not permitted for couples who have lived with each other for several years and particularly those who have had children. In the Rmam families, people live in unity and concord, with almost no quarrels between husbands and wives, parents and children, between siblings or even relatives.

After the decease of the parents, the small families still own their respective private property. Both sons and daughters are equal in inheriting their parents’ property, without any discrimination.

According to Rmam customs, next-of-skins can be buried in the same grave yard if they die more than a year one after the other. Those who die of accidents are considered becoming “evils” to harm the living. That is why, such dead persons are, under the Rmam conventions, not allowed to be buried in the hamlet cemeteries and must be buried at an out-of-the-way place far from the hamlet. The Rmam people do not build their cemeteries to the East of their hamlets for fear that the “wicked ghosts” of the dead will follow the sun light to enter the hamlets and harm every people.

The private ownership has not developed in the Rmam community. People have until now still considered that their property belong to all members of their lineage. This has made the Rmam people closely bound to their community and tightened the relationship among the community members who love and assist one another in their daily life, shouldering together the work of families, relatives or hamlets. Thievery and burglary are rarely seen in the Rmam community. If any, they will be brought to trial at the communal house and the verdicts by the hamlet elders shall be accepted by the people. It is perhaps because of this the Rmam society is able to maintain its own identity till today, that should be further promoted for a better life of the people of this ethnos.-

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