Bunong Story Telling:​​ A Story Telling about a Fish Woman

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Ms. Nheung Brat, A Fish Woman’s Story Teller

My name is Nheung Brat, I am 36 years old and I am Bunong. In the past I used to live in Pou Tang village, Ramanea commune, Sen Monorom town. Many years ago I later moved to Pou Rang village, Sen Monorom commune, O Raing district, Mondulkiri province. Pou Rang village is located around 20km’s from Sen Monorom’s buffalo roundabout, the provincial town of Mondulkiri province; along the national road no. 76 towards Phnom Penh. I know how to tell this story as it comes from both my parents and grandmother; I was usually told many stories by them when I was young. But I am going to tell you a story titled “A Fish Woman”. The story is as follows:

Once upon a time, there was a family who had 2 sons. The family were farmers. They only ate and survived from the products produced on their plantation. They always went to clean away any rubbish from the grass in their field every day. There was one day when the second son of the family had asked his father to go fishing but he was too tired from cleaning the grass at their field. But his father replied “why do you want to go fishing, is it because you don’t know how to do it? What would you do if the fishing line is cut?” then the second son said “don’t worry father, I am old enough to take care of it and I will be careful about that.” Then he went to fish after replying to his father.

The second son could not even get a fish for a long time. Suddenly, he found a very big and deep hole which he went to fish at. A big long fish showed up and wanted to eat his hook and bait abruptly. Then, that fish quickly swallowed his hook and pulled it into the water hole. He felt fearful to see that his fishing line was cut. He thought that his father was going to blame and hit him if he came back home without the fishing pole. He tried to look for his fishing pole many times but he couldn’t find it. He dove to the bottom of the hole and swam following that fish. He heard the voices of chicken’s, crows and a village with many people who were living there when he got to the bottom of the hole. He didn’t know it was a village of gods and he decided to walk and enter that village. When he got to the village, there was a female villager who came to him and asked him “where do you go?” “I come to visit your village”, he replied. Then the villager continued “because it’s you, I don’t mind, but if it’s not you, I won’t allow you to enter my village because it is a taboo village and we have a very strict rule. We won’t just let anyone come to our village.” He replied “what is the taboo? Why don’t you allow people to enter your village?” Then the woman replied “it is not an essential taboo, it is because my daughter doesn’t feel good as she has a fever “so I am sorry aunt”, he replied. The woman replied “it doesn’t matter.”

The second son saw that the woman was holding her daughter’s hand at the house post entrance. He asked the mother to touch and check the health of her daughter “what’s wrong with her.” He observed that there was a fish hook stuck within her tongue. After that, he said to her mother and pointed to the fish hook, “she is sick from that disease or other viruses.” Then the mother replied “can you cure it”? He said “yes I can, please don’t worry about that.” The woman was very happy to hear that (as she is the mother of the fish woman who ate his bait). She said ”please wait for her father, he will be back home later in the evening; when he comes home, you can start curing her.” He replied “yes, aunt, I am going to wait for him.” Then the mother went ahead and questioned him “have you ever made any treatments for the villagers at your village?” he replied “yes, I have, sometimes they get better but sometime they don’t.”

In the evening, the other 3 beautiful daughters of the woman returned home from their farm (they are actually daughters of the gods too). Then a moment later, the father of the fish woman also returned from grazing their cows, buffalos, elephants, horses and other animals. Although they have lots of animals, they always go and graze them and never just let those animals go by themselves. When he got home, he asked his wife “why didn’t you cook, what were you doing?” the woman replied “I don’t want to cook because our daughter is sick. I was very busy taking care of her.” This afternoon a boy came to our place, and I asked him “where are you from?” he replied that “he is from a far away village – a highlander village.” The husband continued “what is his nationality? Bunong, Ra Oung or Bres?” the wife answered “I don’t know. The only one thing I know is that he came to visit our home this afternoon. I was told that he is a traditional healer – he can cure people and he can suck out the virus.” Otherwise, our daughter is not fine; she has a fever, so she might be quite sick.” Her husband then replied “So it is great if that man can treat and suck. We can ask him to treat our daughter.” Then the husband and wife gods told their daughters to go and cook and prepare food for the man. After the food was ready, they invited the man to dinner. The food was so yummy because the ladies were very good at cooking. After the dinner, the husband and wife gods organized some ceremony materials such as a chicken and jar of wine for the man to start his sucking treatment for their daughter. The jar wine was also very tasty! The husband and wife gods, healer and villagers drank the wine until early in the morning. Then he started his sucking treatment for the fish woman. A fish hook came out from the mouth of the fish woman while he was sucking. It was the hook that she ate the last day he fished. So he took out the hook and said to her parents “uncle and aunt, please look at this hook. Your daughter was sick because of it. But don’t worry right now, it was taken out. She is going to get better and better from now on and she will be healthy in a few days.” The husband and wife gods didn’t know that their daughter had swallowed a hook before and neither did they know that the hook was what ailed their daughter or what a hook was. They only knew that their daughter was sick and had a fever since yesterday morning. Later, the healer man told the husband and wife gods to feed their daughter with hot porridge because it would help her get better sooner. The husband and wife gods felt much better to hear that, they then followed the healer’s advice. They thanked the healer man by saying “thank you very much. Our daughter would be getting worse and worse if we didn’t have you.” The healer man replied that “it doesn’t matter uncle and aunt, your daughter will be okay soon. The most important thing for you is to follow what I’ve told you.” Then the husband and wife gods started feeding their daughter with the porridge. She ate a lot and started sweating and was better. They were very happy. The husband and wife gods said to the healer man “do you know this virus? Why is it long and curved like this?” he replied “I don’t know what it is and I have never seen it before and I don’t’ know much about it.” Actually, he knew exactly what it was and whose it was but pretended not to know.

Then the husband and wife gods thanked the healer man by killing chickens, taking jar wines and cooking many foods for him. The healer man was a gentle man and he was very polite. He didn’t talk much. To see that he was looked after very well, the daughters of the husband and wife gods called to him to come and sleep with them in their bedroom. But, he ignored them by saying “why did you call me to sleep in the room with you? My body is dirty and I smell bad so I dare not sleep with you.” He worded it like that because he is a real gentleman and he always puts himself down when he talks. And, of course he is very handsome and hygienic. He didn’t’ feel like loving these ladies because he clearly knew that he was just a normal person and they are gods. The wife heard his ignorant comments so she said to him “what’s the problem with you? Why don’t you want to sleep with my daughters?” he replied “I am not used to sleeping in a room and I’ve never slept with a lady.” The wife didn’t take his excuse and she still persuaded him to go and sleep with her daughters. Then, the ladies pulled his hand and walked him to their bedroom. That healer was very well-mannered, his body remained straight and he didn’t move because he worried that he would touch the ladies breasts.

The husband and wife gods told their daughter to prepare food for him when he got up in the morning because he had to leave and go back to his home. The daughters had assigned their house work roles very well with each other; the 1st one was responsible for the cleaning stuff, the 2nd one was responsible for making up the fire, the 3rd one was responsible for cooking the rice and the youngest one for cooking other foods. After the food was ready they invited the healer man for breakfast. After finishing breakfast, he prepared his stuff and said good bye to the god’s family. The god’s family had a bag of gifts for him such as a scarf, sarong, breechcloth, silks and other valuable things. They said to the healer man “we don’t have many things to thank you, it is a little from us. We are very happy and we thank you so much.” Then, they walked him to the entrance of their house fences to make sure that he was not bitten by their dog. That entrance was the narrow path of the water hole where he fished the last day. After he walked a bit past the entrance, he turned aside and saw a big deep hole. He recognized and fell into the hole. After he was on the ground, he remembered that he was given a bag of gifts by the god’s family. He then untied the bag to see those gifts, they were all with him.

His parents had no idea where to find him after he had not returned back home for these few days. Due to their second son’s disappearance, every day they always argued and accused each other for the possible reasons. His mother blamed his father stating that “he disappeared because of you; you scared him, telling him that if he cut the fishing line that you would hit him. And now he might have cut the line. He is gentle so he will not return home if he has cut the line. I don’t know whether he is dead or not? Or if he committed suicide.” His father replied “I just threatened him, it was unintentional. And now we only want him to come back home.” His parents argued non-stop every day since they lost their second son.

One day, whilst they were having an argument, they heard a voice calling them from outside the house. “Open the door please, dad and mom”! They asked “who are you? Are you a ghost or a man?” The voice replied “It is me, not a ghost. I am back home now.” In fact it was the voice of their second son! So they opened the door to welcome their son in and walked with him to sit on the bed after they knew that it was not the voice of a ghost. They asked their second son “where have you been for a few days? We were worried so much about you and we thought that you were dead. And what is in that bag?” He replied “please do not worry mom and dad, I am fine now. Let me open this bag for you and you will see what is in it.” They saw a scarf, sarong, breechcloth, silk and many other materials. His parents asked him “where did you get them from? Who gave them to you?” then the second son told his parents honestly about what had happened with him at the family world of the god’s. This story was heard by his older brother. So his brother asked him about where he went fishing? Why did he get so many gifts? His brother wanted to go fishing there as well? But he replied to his brother “you are not suitable to go fishing there and you will die there because you won’t have patience enough with them, I think. I know you clearly brother.”

His older brother still asked him again and again although he was refused many times and many days. Because of his brother’s repetition, he decided to tell his brother about his story which he started from when he asked his parents to go fishing and what had happened with him from when he jumped into the water hole.

After listening to the whole story, his older brother said “Thus it is great my younger brother, I can also go fishing there.” Then the older brother went to his father and asked “I’d like to go fishing at the same place where my younger brother did last time, dad.” His father replied “no problem son, go fishing there please.” The older brother was very happy to get approval from his father.

He went to fish at the water hole. Suddenly, there was a big fish which showed up and ate his bait. After the fish ate and swallowed his hook, the fish pulled his fish pole into the deep water hole. It made the older brother feel very angry. He tried to find his pole around the area but he could not. He grumbled softly to himself that “it seemed to be out here, and where was that big fish right now?” Then the older brother jumped down into the deep water hole and he immersed himself in the water. He swam to find the fish and he tried to get closer to the fish that he saw. Swiftly, he heard the chickens and crows. He was curious, “why is there a crow here and a village with houses here also?” So he decided to walk toward a house which was just right in front of him. He met a woman who was holding her daughter’s hand at the fence which is the entrance of her house. They are gods. The woman asked him “where do you go?” He replied “I want to come and visit your house and your family.” Then, the woman continued, “I have never seen a weird person such as Bunong, Ra Oung, Bress or other groups come and visit me before. So what are you going to do here?” He replied “yes, aunt! I have nothing to do here, I’ve just come to visit you.” Then the god woman continued with “ohh! So, it doesn’t matter. I am very busy because my daughter has a fever. I’d like to ask you a question if you don’t mind.” He replied “please!” The woman continued “are you the man who came to visit us last time?” he replied “I am not that man. I am his older brother.” Then the god woman invited him to go inside her house and told him about her daughter’s sickness symptoms. She said “my daughter has had a fever since this morning. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.” Her daughter is the fish woman. The man asked permission from her to have a health check with her daughter. He saw a hook in her mouth after checking. Then the older brother told the god woman that “I found the answer now. Your daughter has got a fever because she ate and swallowed my hook this morning.” So the god woman asked him “how could my daughter eat your bait and swallow your hook? Can you suck or cure her” the older brother replied “yes, aunt! Please do not worry. I can suck and make a treatment for her. You just supply me with a chicken and small jar of wine for me to organize the type of treatment ceremony because it is my family rule and taboo; it will be enough. I cannot make a treatment without using those things, but you do not need to organize a big one.”

In the evening of the same day, the other members of the god’s family were back from their farm and grazing their animals as usual. When they got home, they asked the god woman “why don’t you cook rice and food? It is late evening now” the god woman replied that “I am busy because your youngest sister is sick.” When her husband heard that, he told their other 3 daughters to “please go and cook because your mother is busy with your sister.” Then the 3 daughters went to cook the food instead of their mother.

The story of the older brother from here on until where they were celebrating the ceremony for the sucking treatment is quite the same as the story of his younger brother; what he did and they did, what they talked about etc. Thus, when the older brother took out the hook from the fish woman’s mouth, he told her family that “now I took out this hook. Do you see, it is exactly my hook? I lost it when I was fishing. I’ve tried to find it but I couldn’t.” Then he showed the hook to the people around him, he put the hook into his bag and explained to the family members about his type of fishing pole. The gods family asked him “what is it called when a material is that big, long and curved?” the man answered them that “it is a fishing pole.” Then they asked “what about the medium one and curved?” he replied “it is hook.” And what about a big net? It is a fishing net, he replied. What about a tool that has a hole? It is called a Loab or True (in Khmer language). When he was drunk, he told everything related to fishing to the gods family. Then the god’s family started getting mad at the man after listening to his explanation and they knew that their family member was getting sick because of him.

That night, when he went to sleep, he called the daughters of the god’s family to sleep with him but they refused and they told him “we don’t want to sleep with you because we are dirty and we smell bad. He replied “it doesn’t matter, I don’t mind. I won’t be fearful if I have you sleeping nearby me.” After he said it like that, their parents told them to go and sleep with him in their bedroom. Because he was drunk, he fell asleep quickly – in a second! A moment later, he was restored from his drunkenness and he sexually abused all of the gods’ daughters. After the mistreatment to the ladies, he was very tired and fell asleep again until late in the morning. The other people in the house were all up except him at this time.

The four daughters told their parents about their abuse by this man. They said “mom and dad, he is not gentle like the last man who came to our house last time. The last man is a gentleman, he didn’t even touch us but this man is very impolite to us. He teased and abused us, we could not sleep for a whole night. We don’t think that he is a good man.” Their parents replied “don’t’ say that about this man my dear daughters. We think that it is good news for us.” The daughters dared not report any more about that man after they were banned by their parents like that! Then, the ladies were told to prepare breakfast for the man because he would have to go back home this morning. So they cooked for the man and called him for breakfast when it was ready.

After breakfast, the daughters walked him to the entrance of their house’s fence. They left him a message which said, “please do not turn back while you are walking onward.” But the man didn’t care about their message and he turned aside while he was travelling. He saw that many big fish and crocodiles were swimming behind him. He was bitten by those animals until he was dead.

The older brother could not get home and meet his parents and relatives anymore. The god’s family (or fish woman’s family) didn’t give him gifts as well because they were not happy after they were told everything about the fishing tools by the older brother’s man. The older brother was dead at last!

The two brother’s characteristics were completely different. The younger brother was a gentleman and a good man. Yet the older brother was a careless person and it cursed him with his death at the end.

 

Click here to see our Eng-Khmer story telling poster

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