Vietnam Heritage, July-August 2011 — A love song of the Jarai, an ethnic minority of the Central Highlands, says ‘I do thunder and you do lightning . . .’ The Jarai, like the Ede, Churu and Raglai, are matrilineal. The woman is the house-owner and judge in many important matters, from the management and division of property to marriage, alliances between families and clans and ownership of land, hills and woods.
Men welcome guests, run here and there, direct business, celebrate rites, pray to gods, have contact with the outside world, deal with neighbouring tribes, settle conflicts within and without the village and declare war or truce.
In a Jarai house the woman’s place is in the farthest, most hidden and usually darkest corner. She comes in through a rear door. She is absent when strangers visit. During the rites and ceremonies she is ‘the leader behind the curtain’.
The highlanders at the end of harvest for months visit far-off relatives, to make friends in new places. They join every kind of celebration, drink alcohol from earthenware jars through bamboo pipes to unconsciousness, and sing endless folklore spontaneously throughout the night . . . Even in the rice-planting season they sneak out to roam in the forest, chase a boar, stag, mouse-deer or fox or sometimes only rats or snakes, search for a honey or drink naturally fermented juices from jungle trees.
In Central Highlands society, whenever the woman leaves her domain and stays out of the house, out of the hamlet, then all is in chaos.
Generally, the woman has as her loudspeaker, spokesman and executive her elder or younger brother, or one of her maternal uncles.
The man is noisy, aggressive and stubborn.n
* Nguyen Ngoc is a well-known writer and expert on Central Highland culture