Bunong Story Telling:​​ A Story about the Ratabb Tree


Ratabb Tree

My name is Pleal Panny, and I am a 60-year-old Bunong woman. I was born and currently live in Pou Tren village, Dak Dam commune, O Raing District in Mondulkiri province. I heard the story about the Ratabb tree from my grandparents and parents and I always tell it to the young people as well. The story about this tree is as follow:

Once upon a time, there was a tree name Ratabb (this word in Bunong means the tree which is grown on the mountain called Tou Ranum). It has grown there for a long time; no one knows when those trees were born or when they first grew as this was before any people were born. There were a small number of villagers who lived around the mountain’s base where the Ratabb tree grew on the top of the mountain. During the war era, the inhabitants who lived there saw a big tall tree growing there compared to the others. The villagers always went to cut the trees for building houses or to find wood in the mountain area.


Ms. Pleal Panny, Ratabb Tree’s story teller

One night there was a villager among the others who would always go to find wood in the area and he had a dream while he was sleeping. He saw a man who came to him and said “I won’t allow anyone to come and cut the tree, to hunt etc, in this mountain area. Otherwise, members of your family will become sick or they will die.; I am giving you this information in advance so you do not accuse me of not telling you in the future if you still come to this area.” When he got up in the morning, he told his family and villagers about his dream. Yet, those villagers didn’t trust in what he told them and replied to him “because you thought too much before going to bed, that’s why you had a dream like that! Please don’t believe in these malignant invisible forces. If we were forbidden to enter into that area, where would we go to find the trees and wood?” All the villagers didn’t believe in his words at all and they still continued going into the forest and took produce from the area. Two to three days after they cut down trees from the area, they became sick without any reason. They tried looking for lots of medicine from many places but they didn’t get better. After seeing that the situation was not getting better, a villager from amongst them reminded them about their traditional beliefs and practices from their ancestors time. He said “If there was someone who cannot be treated by the medicine, he/she should try the traditional ways and beliefs instead. It could be because of what he/she has unintentionally done. For example, he/she cut the trees within the taboo place. ”


MRDC’s staff, Samnang, conducting interview with Ms. Pleal Panny about the story of Ratabb tree

In order to know if we have done anything wrong, the families of the patients must organize a ceremony and ask for forgiveness from the spirit of Lok Ta and the forest. They asked “Please let the patients recover from their illness because they didn’t know that the place was taboo; so spirits of grandfather, grandmother, land and water here please don’t be mad with them and forgive them. On behalf of the forgiveness ceremony we are asking of you, today we offer a pig and wine for the spirits of the forest and Ratabb tree as well.” After the ceremony, the patients were immediately cured.The inhabitants who live around the mountain of that Ratabb tree said “that mountain used to have many booms and explosive mines dropped on it, but those munitions were not explored.” Since that time, the Ratabb tree was strongly respected by the all the villagers. After some time, that tree died and a new one grew up and it is as big, tall and the same as the dead one. It was said that “it is the baby of the dead one.” The difference is that it grew a bit far from its mother’s place.

At the end, I would like to leave a message and that is: “please, everybody help to preserve the taboo area as much as possible because it is an important taboo place of the Bunong people.”

Click here to see our Eng-Khmer story telling poster

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