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The M'Nong ethnic group in Vietnam

The M’Nong was one of the first groups to settle in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. They have preserved many unique cultural features of their traditional festivals and folklore including epics, beating gongs, songs, and dance.

The M’nong have many branches living mainly in Dac Nong, Dac Lac, Binh Phuoc, and Lam Dong province. The M’nong Rlam live near water and grow wet rice. The M’nong Bu Dong are famous for catching and taming elephants in Don hamlet. The M’nong Preh in Dac Mil, the M’nong Prang in Dac Nong, and the M’nong Gar in Lam Dong cultivate terraced fields.

The M’Nong live close to nature and follow polytheism. They believe that genies are everywhere. The earth genie blesses the landowners; the kitchen genie keeps the fire and helps in cooking; the forest genie provides food; the genies of the mountain, spring, and waterfall maintain water sources; the agricultural genie makes bumper crops and fruitful trees; and the thunderbolt genie punishes bad people.

The M’nong believe in supernatural powers which influence human life. The spirits of their ancestors protect the children; the kitchen genie keeps fire and food; the rice and crop genie ensures a bumper harvest; and the thunder genie punishes people if they violate traditional norms such as the taboo against incest. They have many rituals for worshiping these genies as well as maturation, wedding, and longevity ceremonies. The M’nong have strict rules governing community relations, ownership, marriage, and gender relations.
“The M’nong abide by community rules to maintain social unity. Disputes among hamlets, families, clans, and neighbors are solved by traditional custom. The mediators must be upright and have good understanding of tradition and custom.” - Nguyen Khanh Duy is an ethic minority researcher in Dac Lac province. 
The M’nong give first priority to reconciliation. Offenders must compensate the offended with a jar, a gong, an elephant, or by preparing an offering of pork and chicken.

Traditionally after harvest, all M’Nong hamlets organize festivals to thank the genies and their ancestors for giving them baskets full of rice and cows and buffaloes. The wine festival and new rice, wedding, and maturity celebrations and worshiping of elephant show the identities of people living by wet rice planting, hunting, and gathering.
“We have many festivals to celebrate new rice and pray for rain and bumper crop. The most popular event is the farewell ceremony for the dead in Ea sup and Buon Don districts in Dac Lac. The elephant race of the M’Nong has become a provincial festival. The M’Nong also organize the elephant bathing ceremony and prayer for the elephant’s health.” - Luong Thi Son, Director of the Dac Lac Museum of Ethnic Groups.
The M’Nong believe that after death one’s soul will maintain a connection with the living. The family will offer meals to the dead every day. After 3 to 5 years, the hamlet will hold a ceremony to see off the dead to another world. The ceremony consists of various activities such as beating gongs, singing, dancing, and performing folk games.
“The size of the ceremony depends on the family’s condition. Normally, the family prepares pigs and chickens and makes wood statues to place at the tomb. The popular images are elephants, birds, people pounding rice, a mother breast-feeding a baby, a man crying, or people beating drums.” - Nguyen Thi Ngoc, a researcher of ethnic groups in Dac Lac province. 
The M’Nong have maintained their unique cultural values including folksongs and epics. “Ot N’Rong” is the oldest epic of the M’Nong telling about the history of ethnic groups in the Central Highlands including the M’Nong.

M’nong rules say villagers must respect and help elderly people, the patriarch, and hamlet contributors. The whole village will help a family organize a funeral and show deep sorrow for the dead. Villagers help each other in production, such as an early harvest to avoid a natural disaster. Field owners will give the helpers baskets of rice, corn, or vegetables.
“Some customs have changed, such as the wedding ceremony. In the past, the host had to prepare enough pigs and chickens to feed the whole village and the ceremony lasted 2 or 3 days. Now the ceremony has been simplified to reduce costs. We still uphold many family rules such as the groom must live with the bride’s family after marriage, couples must carefully read the family tree to avoid close bond marriage, and a widow can only remarry after a ceremony to see the soul of the dead husband off to heaven.” - Ama Phong of the M’nong Rlam in Lac district.
The authority has paid special attention to preserving and promoting typical cultural values of ethnic groups.
“The government, especially the cultural sector, has implemented many activities to promote ethnic culture such as training courses on epics, ethnic crafts, dancing, and playing gongs. Communications has been enhanced to make people love their culture more.” - Mrs Son. 
Community activities such as composing music, taking photos, singing, dancing, and telling epics have been held regularly to help the M’Nong preserve their cultural identity in modern society.

Lotus Delta

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