My name is Sokhon Pean – I am a 47-year-old Bunong woman. I was born in Pou Treng village, Dak Dam commune, O Raing district in Mondulkiri province. I still live at the same address where I was born and I have lived here for 47 years. My grandfather, aunt and mother told me the history of the Raloung jar and I always tell the story to the younger generation as well. The story about the Raloung jar is as follows:
Raloung Jar means the most expensive and valuable jar amongst all the other jars. We have other different jars but those jars have their own names. The Raloung jar is the lead jar and the most powerful jar and it is used in functional and very specific conditions. Raloung is a Bunong word which means ‘priceless and valuable’. I don’t know how it was given this name nor by whom and when it first used. I don’t have this jar anymore because recently my home was entirely burnt by a fire. I had two in the past but they were both burnt and broken. I heard from my aunt and mother that this jar has been used since Bunong people existed. This jar was originally produced by Bunong people but no one seems to be able to make them anymore because the people who produced them have all died. This type of jar cannot presently be found anymore. It is made from the soil of termite mounds, kaolin and sand. There are two type of Raloung jar – one has bronze and a small hole on the bottom of the jar and the other one does not. Although the one with a hole at the bottom of it will only leak a very minuscule amount of water because the hole is very tiny. I don’t know the reason why it is produced with a hole like this, it is from our ancestors. The one which has a hole at the bottom is more expensive than the one that does not have a hole. In today’s money it costs US $1000.00 and in the past it was equal to 3 buffalos. The one without the hole in the bottom currently costs US $500.00 and in the past was equal to two buffalos (1 big and 1 small). The reason that we know that this jar was used in particular events / ceremonies is because in earlier times there were two grandparents living in a village that had produced these jars on their own. There was one day, the grandfather felt bored and sad so he made lots of mumbling sounds – “I cannot get lots of rice after harvesting and my health is getting worse and worse as time goes by”. He fell asleep, had a nap and mumbled whilst he was dreaming. He met a man who was standing near the Raloung jar (the man is the spirit of the jar). Both the spirits of the grandfather and the jar discussed about how to set up and how to use the jar and also in which ceremonies. Then the man told the grandfather that the jar can only be used in the most necessary ceremonies such as:
In the Katis Wedding Ceremony: (for instance, the mothers of the groom and bride where there is a biological sister or uncle who marries their niece). This is the most important usage of the jar.
- Rice Seed Ceremony: where it is organized for the god of the rice seed; this is meant for people who get lots of rice seed product each year (i.e.: where there are hundreds of rice containers which are collected for each year – one container is equal to 12 kg, they will use a Raloung jar to produce jar wine and use it for this ceremony; this has to be accompanied by a pig, a buffalo or a cow in accordance to what they have asked for and promised to the spirit of the rice seed at the beginning of the year). At this time, this jar is also used to pray for a high rice seed yield for the next year as well. Further, the elders also pray for good luck, happiness and prosperity for their villagers. They need to stand up a bamboo tree to about 3-4 meters in height from the ground and weave small birds, emerald doves and parrots derived from bamboo onto the bamboo tree. The blood from a pig, cow or buffalo is then placed onto the rim of the Raloung jar and all the elders gather for prayers. The blood is only used for the sacrifice and prayers and the flesh of the animals is cooked as food for all the participants. Whether it is a cow or buffalo used in the ceremony is dependent on what the ceremony holder has promised to the spirit. If he promised to offer a cow he has to use the cow for the ceremony and if he promised a buffalo, he must offer a buffalo in the rice seed ceremony when he reaches a high rice seed yield. The ceremony holder can use the blood of some animals such as a chicken, pig, cow and buffalo. They place the blood from these animals onto the rim of the jar during the ceremony because they believe that it is a way that the spirit of the ceremony holder may meet with the spirits of the Raloung jar and rice seed. If they didn’t celebrate this ceremony, people’s spirits would be taken by the Raloung jar spirit into the jar. Thus, it would cause people to die because the spirit of the jar becomes angry with people if they break their promise from earlier in the year.
- Spirits of Nak Ta and the Nature Ceremony: The ceremony is held on the 14th of April every year. This ceremony is celebrated because historically there were children who played with water and land, climbed onto the tree, took the honey bee and hunted the small black birds (birds that eat rice seed). It is not allowed to cook these birds with any fruit and mushrooms as it will cause thunder to strike; these birds are known as the bird spirit of Lok Ta. Therefore, when we organize this ceremony we are asking for forgiveness from the spirits of Nak Ta, nature and to the children. The blood from a chicken and pig, Raloung jar and 4-5 jars of wine are needed to be used in this ceremony. Buffalo’s blood is not used in this ceremony. This type of ceremony is also celebrated when there is a very sick person and he/she cannot get better with medicine. So his/her family has to return to using the traditional beliefs and ways from their ancestors instead.
- Ceremony of Cutting Elephant Ivory: This is the same as the Spirits of Nak Ta and Nature Ceremony too which means that after the elephant’s ivories are cut, the elephant possessor is going to celebrate this ceremony to ask for prosperity for him and his elephant. Elephant ivory can be cut every 7-8 years. Some tools and animals such as incense, candles, a pig, a buffalo and Raloung jar are used in this ceremony. With the first cut, they use a pig and Raloung jar and for the second cut, they use a buffalo and Raloung jar according to our rules. They also make some banana leaf cake as well to welcome the people who come to this ceremony. In the past, we didn’t have incense so we only used candles.
- Elephant Ceremony: For example, I have money and I want to buy a baby elephant from someone (I would use cows and buffalo to buy the elephant because Bunong people didn’t use money at that time). So when the owner of the elephant gave me the elephant, I would kill a buffalo and use its blood with the Raloung jar to prove that I accept this elephant into my possession and to show that I offer the buffalos and cows to the elephant’s owner. Only the blood of a buffalo is used for the ceremony but its flesh is used as food for the participants. I have to offer only buffalos and cow but not the Raloung jar. However, if the buyer doesn’t have cows or buffalo, he can buy the elephant by using the Raloung jar with an acceptable price.
- Mountain Ceremony: This ceremony is organized in relation to a tale that is quite the same as the story of the Raloung jar too. The tale is as follow: our elder was doing business and he was very successful with his business. One day, when he was sleeping, his spirit met the spirit of the mountain. The spirit of the mountain asked the business man for food; he agreed with the suggestion from the mountain spirit because he was successful with his business and he was healthy as well, The mountain is called Ratabb and it is located in this village too but it is far from my house. In the last 7-8 years, my villagers have celebrated a mountain ceremony as well. This ceremony normally starts in March, April or May. But the date is depended on how much success their businesses are receiving.. Only people who live in the village and belong to this mountain are allowed to celebrate this ceremony, the people from other villages only come as supporters and to share in eating the buffalo’s flesh together. We can use up some animal’s blood from chickens, pig’s, buffalo’s and exclusively dog’s. the blood has to be placed onto the rim of the Raloung jar. If the ceremony holder could only offer a cow at this time, they would use the cow’s blood for this ceremony and they would use buffalo’s blood next time. The buffalo which is used in the ceremony is a big one; it recently cost around US $1000.00. Seven years ago I participated in this type of ceremony with my mother and aunt. Only the family who have met the spirit can organize this ceremony, the neighbors can’t!
Only the wealthy families who have cows and buffalo could have the ability to own this jar. Nevertheless, the poor people have no ability to own this jar; they have to borrow it from the rich families if they need to use it in their ceremonies. When they borrow the jar to use in the Katis wedding ceremony and in the ceremony for sick people (asking for support when recovering from illnesses), the borrower has to pray for good luck and happiness to the jar owner by using one pig when the borrower returns the jar. But if they use this jar in different ceremonies from the two above mentioned ceremonies, they don’t need to use a pig to pray to the jar’s owner. If the borrower was to break the jar, he/she will have to pay an equal value of the jar to the owner and must use one pig to pray for good luck and happiness for the jar’s owner.
If the villagers didn’t use the jar in their wedding and rice seed ceremonies, it would cause their family a lot of trouble – a family member can become sick or die according to the rules as per the discussion between spirit and spirit/s since the beginning of time.
In recent times, nobody has dreamt or seen the spirit of the jar anymore. We only practice and follow these rules, how to organize each ceremony and how to use this jar with the different types of animal blood from historical time with our ancestors up until the present.
- The blood of a dog, duck, goat, pig, cow and buffalo are only used to accompany the Raloung jar in the Katis wedding ceremony. Goat’s blood is used in this type of ceremony and it is the only exception, it is not used in other ceremonies.
- The blood of a cow, duck and dog are used with negative events such as miscarriage, swearing (to prove that … is not a witch) and the funeral ceremony of a fatality.