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The Bru People in Khong Chiem, Ubon 

Julie Green and Feikje Van der Haak 

Who are the Bru? 

The Bru who live in Thailand, live in two villages: Woen Buek and Tha 
Long in Khong Chlem District. Ubon Ratchathani Province. The two villages are 
located 100 kilometers east of the Ubon Ratchathani Provincial capital. Woen 
Buek village is situated on the bank of the Mekong River, at the point where the 
river forms a large whirlpool. The first part of the name Woen Buek. nu wvm. 
means 'whirlpool' in Bm. The second part refers to the very large lift bud; catfish 
that one can catch in the river. The area surrounding both villages is very rocky, 
and generally not well suited for wet rice farming. Woen Buek is located within 
the larger Kaeng Tana National Forest. 


Most of the houses in Woen Buek are 
built in a traditional Thai country style with wood 
pilings, usually set on rocks, and either wood or 
bamfcKK) walls with a tin roof. However, there are 
a few cement block and brick houses. There are 
three country stores and, for a while, the village 
boasted a Saturday market that sold just about 
everything from fruit and cloth to live pigs and 
furniture. This market attracted vendors from as 
far away as Ubon and customers from both sides 
of the Mekong River. The village also has had a 
preschool, elementary school, clinic, and various 
community development projects, which were initiated by the govemment. 

The nuclear family, and in some instances the extended family, is the 
basic economic unit. Originally the Bru people from Woen Buek planted rfce in 
the surrounding hills according to the slash and burn or swidden method, with 
some fishing in streams and foraging in the forest for other food sources. 
However, about forty years ago the government prohibited the use of national 
forest land for rice planting and since then only a small percentage of the village 
people possess agricultural land. As a result, the people have turned to other 
sources for food and income: fishing on the Mekong river, basket weaving, and- 
increasingly in the past twenty years-seasonal work away from the village, as far 
as Bangkok and surroundings. Lately the fish in the Mekong and the food in the 


Green & v.d. Haak - Bai Khong Chiem Orthography 26 

forest is reported to be slowly depleting, increasing the pressure to find other 
sources of incooie. 

The division of labor t>etween Bru males and females seems to be 
equally shared with no undue hardship on either of the sexes. The majority of the 
economic and child rearing tasks can be done by either sex. Men will watch the 
children, cook and pound rice. Women will go fishing. There are some tasks 
that are considered "men's work" only, but it is said that these jobs are "men's 
only" t}ecause women are not physically strong enough to do the task. 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ The Bru in Khong Chiem are 

bride and groom. The Bru. however, 
are not allowed to marry their matrilineal cross-cousin, as well as any other 
consanguineal kin. The Bru who are still in one of the four clans may not man^y 
within their clan. Those who do not have a clan affiliation are urged to find a 
mate that is outskie of their consanguineal and affinal kin. More often than not, 
this means that marriage partners have to come from outside of Woen Buek 

Once a couple decides they will marry, negotiations between the two 
families will begin. These negotiations will determine how much will be given by 
each of the families for the wedding. In general, gifts from the groom's side 
outweigh gifts from the bride's family. Ideally, by the time the wedding has taken 
place, each party has given all of the gifts. Although it is not ideal, it is also 
possible to negotiate for a later payment of the brideweatth during the initial 

The traditional rule of post-marital residence is matritocal for at least one 
year. After one or more years, but especially when the next daughter's husband 
moves in, a man will build a house for his own young family. Usually that house 
is built on land of the wife's family, which means they move right next door. This 
new family is forbidden to live close to the husband's family and other taboos 
govern the interaction between the in-laws. In-law taboos forbid extended and 
intimate interaction t)etween the daughter-in-law and her husband's parents. The 
daughter in-law is not allowed to enter or be under her in-law's house. She must 
stay outside if they do go to visit, and if needed, a separate shelter will be built 
especially for her. She also may not touch her in-laws' cooking utensils or hand 

Green & v.d. Haak - Bru Khong Chiem Orthography 27 

cooked food to any of her in-laws, so during feasts she may not help her mother- 
in-law in the kitchen. 

However, the matrilocal residence rule can flex with the home situation of 
both the man and the wife. If the man is an only child, if he has no sisters, or if 
his parents have more land for 
building a house or doing rice fields 
than his wife's parents (or any 
combination of these reasons), then 
a woman might leave her clan and 
join her husband's family instead. 
This provkles the newly wed couple 
with land and a house, and the 
elderly parents with children to care 

for them. In such cases, however, the wife will have to leave her clan, by making 
a buffalo sacrifice. 

In Woen Buek, a clan head leads each clan. The position of clan head is 
traditionally hereditary. It is passed on to a qualified male heir after the clan 
head's death. If the clan head has several sons, the clan members will get 
together and decide which of the sons will take the position. If there are no 
eligible sons, the position is passed on to a qualified male ''nephew." The role of 
the clan head is to mediate in social disputes and in matters that deal with the 
clan ancestors. If a clan member has offended the ancestors (generally through 
illk:it sexual unions or through marital divorce or separation), it is the clan head's 
responsibility to take the offending part/s sacrifice to the ancestors place (usually 
a small house or altar) and there sacrifice the animal, explaining the reason for 
the sacrifice and asking for the ancestor's forgiveness and subsequent blessing. 

The Bru in Woen Buek follow a mixture of Buddhist and traditional 
animistic practices. Traditional animists respect and make sacrifices to the clan 
ancestors along with a myriad of other supernatural beings and spirits. These 
spirits have power over various aspects of the world and natural phenomena and 
can cause people to be sick or bring disaster on them. Because these beings 
and spirits can cause harm for the Bru either as individuals or as a village, the 
Bru are careful not to offend any of the supernatural beings or spirits in their day 
to day living. 

i,ua4iwjvnjj^fia'3l^msjfiii?'3W?syv\i?2:ifiW4Viii9M'i 6 fan 

In Honor of 

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej 

On the Auspicious Occasion of his Sixth Cycle Birthday 

Minority Language Orthograph in Thailand; 

Five Case Studies 

Edited by the TU-SIL-LRDP Committee 

Under the auspices of Thammasat University 

and in cooperation with SIL International 

January 2002