Bunong Story Telling: The Story of the Orphan Boy who became an Elephant Hunter


Mr. Phet Sophoeun, the story teller of The Story of the Orphan Boy who became an Elephant Hunter

My name is Phet Sophoeun. I am a Bunong man and I am 62 years old. I live in the Chiklap village, in Sok San commune, Koh Nhek district, Mondulkiri province. This village is about 100 km from the buffalo roundabout of Senmonorom town, Mondulkiri province, along the national road number 76 heading toward Ratanakiri province. I would like to tell a story called “An Orphan Boy who became an Elephant Hunter.”

Once upon a time, there was an orphan boy who lived alone with only his grandmother. One day, he was called to join the elephant hunter team by a group of elephant hunters from his village. He agreed to join them.

They went to the forest together but while they were resting they didn’t realize that they had lost their elephant bullhook.  So the elephant hunters asked the orphan boy to go look for the bullhook. The hunters hit the boy and threatened to kill him if he could not find the bullhook. The boy searched and searched for the bullhook without stopping but he could not find it anywhere. As a result, the elephant hunters returned to their home village and just left the orphan boy alone in the forest.


When the hunters got home, the orphan boy’s grandmother asked them: “where is my grandchild? Why is he not back home?” The hunters replied: “We don’t know where your grandchild is.  He didn’t want to go with us and he told us that he just wanted to go back home.”

Meanwhile, the orphan boy was still trying to look for the lost bullhook in the forest. While he was walking and looking around for the bullhook, he met the elephant gods named “Ngavach Ngaval”. The gods Ngavach Ngaval said to the orphan boy: “you don’t need to search for the bullhook because we have taken it to our home.  You just need to follow us home.” Then the boy decided to follow the gods Ngavach Ngaval and he soon arrived at their village.

The boy had now been living with the elephant gods for 1-2 years and he had been taught how to capture elephants. So one day, after he learned these skills, the boy went out to capture elephants in the forest on his own. He got an elephant as easily as if the gods Ngavach Ngaval themselves had set up a plan for him. After that experience, the boy was taught by the gods to capture the wild gaur. The boy rode on a gaur to capture the other gaurs from its herd in the forest. He spent a year practicing the art of capturing a wild gaur. He finally captured 2 gaurs.

The boy learned the language of the hunter from the hunters and the language of the elephant mahout from the mahouts. The word for rice was – “Mol”, the word for water was – “Ra Avall”, soup was – “Slor”, bullhook was – “Ngvall” and the words for a beautiful elephant were – “Ramakk Pakksayai”. These are the words the hunters and elephant mahouts used to control the elephants.

After the boy had finished his training with the gods Ngavach Ngaval, they  sent him back home with a gift of elephant’s ivories and an elephant because he had learned to hunt elephant and guar from  the gods.

When the boy got home during the night, he called out to his grandmother to come welcome him. But his grandmother hearing the voice replied: “who are you, my grandchild?” The boy replied: “yes, I am your grandchild.” Then the grandmother said: “oh! My grandchild is not here.  He left a long time ago and I think he may even be dead.” The boy replied: “I am not dead, grandmother. I am still alive! Please just come out and see me, grandmother!” Then his grandmother came outside of the house and of course she saw her dearest grandchild. He felt very happy once she finally came out and greeted him again.

When all was said and done, the group of hunters who had called the orphan to join them and then mistreated him and left him behind in the forest had all become quite poor.  Whereas, the orphan boy had become a wealthy person in the village.

The orphan boy had become a talented hunter and a skilled trainer of other elephant hunters. He trained other hunters wisely and properly from generation to generation about how to hunt the elephant and about the language of the hunter. To this day, the only reason people have this knowledge is because of the wisdom and talent of the orphan boy.

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