Rochum Thit explained to his companions in Kep that Rochum is not his grandfather’s name, as Khmer people use in their personal names, but it was the name of his own clan. Then there are four clans of the Jarai people: Rochum, Seuv, Klieng and Sol. You cannot married a person of your own clan, because it will bring you misfortune. Thit said that some persons that have done it in the past, have suffered strain illness and the children they had, did not grow enough.
Although Jarai people live mostly in the central provinces of Vietnam, there are Jarai Cambodians in Ratanakiri Province in a number of 20 thousand persons according to reports of 2006.
The Jarai people belong to an Australasian speaking family, different to the Mon-Khmer that include Brao, Kreung, Tampuan, Bunong and Kui (see ICSO). It means that Jarai is relative to Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian languages. Most Jarai speaking people live at the north-east part of Ratanakiri.
Most Jarai people live in Ratanakiri, being in that province the third largest ethnic group after Tampuan and Khmer. The presence of indigenous communities out of Ratanakiri and Mondolokiri is often underestimated and it makes those groups vulnerable people. It is also possible to proof a national ignorance of Cambodians over the existence and identity of what is called in general Khmer Leu (Hill Tribal Khmer people.)
On January 22 I asked Rochum Thit to give an exposition to his companions of journalism about his own people. More than 300 kilometers at the south of his hometown, Thit, 20, was keen to speak to his Khmer friends about a land far there in the cool hill north, near to the corner made by the Laos and Vietnamese border. He still living near to a Vietnamese border, but this time in Kep Province.
Thit: My village is Tagham, Ngam District, Andoung District, Ratanakiri Province and it is really far from Banlung. There is not a good road and we can reach the place only by motorbikes or walking.
We do not have individual houses or houses for a couple and their children, but we build a big house for everyone. It is very long… a long roof among the jungle. When I was a kid, our house was one of the longest of the region… it was longest that those three buildings you see in our school – he points out the three sections of Don Bosco Kep that would be together more than 200 meters long.
During the night all women sleep inside that house and men outside, at the village hall. Men keep security of the place and guard in the night. We eat together too. Everything is natural. I miss very much the natural food. Here we use things bought on the market, something chemical, but we Jarai prefer to cook things from the nature and we know a lot of ways to make a food delicious. I will cook something for you one day and you will like it, I am sure.
Once I listen a Filipino speaking his language – Tagalo – and I was amazed to understand some words he was saying. He used words we used in our language. Also I can understand our Cham relatives. We, Jarai-Cambodians use Khmer script, but our Jarai-Vietnamese relatives use Latin script in that country.
I can speak Vietnamese, Laotian, Khmer, Jarai and English and I can understand other Khmer Leu languages. We have Jarai-Khmer dictionaries, Jarai-Vietnamese and Jarai-English dictionaries. I learned all those languages from my father. He thought me to speak all those languages to be able to welcome persons from other places. He thinks it is very important we are able to communicate with other peoples, because we can get information, to know what other people have in mind.
No, we don’t have schools in my village. Children don’t go to school or what you think is a school. My father was my teacher. He used to call my brothers, sisters and me to teach us at the end of the afternoon and we learned many things from him. He is my teacher.
Then, when I was a teenager, one uncle suggested to him that at least one of my brothers and me should attend a school in Banlung. My father agreed and we moved to Banglung. It was the first time I let my village and my people to see the world. My parents were very proud of me. I was very happy too. My brother and I were the first boys to go to a school as you know.
My brother still in 12th grade and I was offered the opportunity to study in Don Bosco Kep about communication and media. I traveled in August 2012 to Kep and it was the first time I left Ratanakiri. I crossed Phnom Penh and I was very curious to see the big city, but we stayed only a couple of nights. I remembered the silence of my village in the night and I prayed for my people.
The second great impact in my travel was to see the ocean. It is very beautiful. I did not imagine the sea in my land. There in Ratanakiri the nearest sea is already in Vietnam, but I never went there.
We Jarai people don’t have a religion or something like Buddhism or Christianity. We respect the spirits, the ancestors, the jungle. There is nothing such as a priest or shaman. The elders lead any religious ceremony when it is necessary.
We, Jarai people, respect the rules of Cambodia, our country. But we are responsible of the rules of our community so we can live in peace and we need to respect others. We don’t have police with us, so the men are responsible to care for the safety of the community. When there is a special risk, all men take time to see the safety of the grows, women, children, elderly, the animals we care. Nobody must avoid it, because we are a family and we are one. We care also for our Khmer relatives and other groups like the Kreung, because we live in our country and we are family too, although we have differences. To be different is not to be enemy. Every child can be different, but our parents are the same.
If someone commit a crime, we take this person and we bring them to justice that is the nearest police station or any court, so the authorities take care according to the rules of our country. We don’t make punishments because it is the care of the Cambodian rulers, who are also ruling to preserve their Jarai people, who we are.
Once we got some thieves around our village and I remembered all the men guarding for several days until the thieves went away. We notified the nearest police station that was actually several kilometers away, but the police knew the case and kept our denounces, so the case was in alert over all the region.
We don’s see women standing a lower level than males. I never thought, since I was a kid, that I was superior to my sisters because my gender condition. For us, Jarai people, males and women are at the same level. A woman even can fight so brave as a male. Even our clan is transmitted by the mother. If you are a Kreung man and married a Jarai woman, your child will be a Jarai, although we can say that child is half Jarai, half Kreung.