My name is Toum Bloeng, a 46-year-old Bunong woman. Recently, I have been living in Pou Nhav village, Memong commune, Keo Seima district, Mondulkiri province. This village is located around 40 km from the Senmonorom Buffalo roundabout, the capital city of Mondulkiri province, along the red gravel road and the condition of the road leading to this place is very bumpy and covered with stones. Also there is a lot of forest and wild animals on the way to this village. I have been living here now for 30 years. I have known about this story since 1982. It was told to me by my aunt when I was young. She often told me many stories but now she has gone. The story that I am going to tell you is entitled “Tam Or – A Newt Man”.
Once upon a time, there were two women sisters who always went to find and cut firewood in the forest. Then one day, while they were looking for firewood, they saw some near to the bank of a river, so they went to cut it. They were always changing places while they cut the wood; one was cutting and the other resting under the shade of the trees. The older sister said to her younger sister “please can you go and cut the wood” when she had finished her turn. Then the younger sister carried the Doeng (an ancient tool similar to an axe) to cut the wood. While she was cutting, the head of the Doeng (axe) dropped into the water. The two sisters tried to find the Doeng head. They could see it when they were on the riverbank but when they went into the water, they couldn’t see it. The older sister blamed her sister saying “you lost the Doeng head so our father will blame you when you get home”. The younger sister was so upset to hear this that she tried to search for the Doeng head on her own many times but she still couldn’t find it. The older sister just stayed on the riverbank and didn’t help the younger sister to search for the Doeng head. After searching for the Doeng head on her own for a long time, the younger sister came back to the riverbank and she was very upset. Her older sister called her to go back home but she refused to return home because she was worried that she would be blamed by her father. She decided to stay on her own at the place where she had lost the Doeng head. The older sister went back home on her own.
When the older sister got home, their parents asked her “where is your younger sister? Why have you come back home on your own?” She replied “my younger sister is not coming back because she lost the Doeng head in the water and she was scared that you would blame her.” Her parents replied “please go and tell your sister to return home. Do not worry about that Doeng head, it is already lost. The most important thing is that your sister comes back home.”
After the older sister had been told this by her parents, she went to see her younger sister in the forest. When she got there, the younger sister asked her “did father say anything about me, sister?” the older sister replied to her in an aggressive way “our father will definitely hit you or kill you if you go back home because you have lost the Doeng head in the water.” The younger sister was even more frightened to go home after she had been told this by her older sister. She carried on looking for that Doeng head. It was really weird as she could see the Doeng head when she was on the land but she couldn’t see it when she immersed herself in the water to pick it up.
Then the older sister returned home on her own to tell her parents “my younger sister is not coming home, father, because she is scared that you will punish her.” Her father replied to her “you have to encourage her and speak to your sister gently so that she is not worried and not afraid.” However, the older sister still told her younger sister in the same aggressive way. The younger sister decided not to return home if she could not find that Doeng head. So the older sister returned home on her own.
The younger sister continued looking for that Doeng head after her older sister had left her alone in the forest. Suddenly she heard a whistling voice and a man appeared; he was fishing in that part of the river. He was the Tam Or – a newt man. When she heard that whistling voice, she murmured to herself “I dare not go back home because I lost the Doeng head. If I return home, I am going to be beaten or killed by my father. Who is the whistler? Why is he so happy? Or is he mocking me?” That Tam Or – a newt man, was actually a god but the younger sister didn’t know that he was a god.
After that the Tam Or – a newt man, approached her step by step and asked “why are you here?” She replied “I came to cut firewood and I dropped the Doeng head into the water. Can you help me to find this Doeng head?” Then the Tam Or – a newt man, replied “oh! it doesn’t matter, it is an easy thing to do. I can bring back that Doeng head to you.” He continued “If I can get that Doeng back for you, what will you give me in exchange? If you give me your life in exchange, then I will get it for you.” The younger sister replied “No problem! I agree but the most important thing is that you have to get that Doeng head please.” When she replied in that way, the Tam Or- a newt man, was very happy. He fell in love with her from that time. The newt man was teasing and chatting with the younger sister at the place where she had lost that Doeng head.
After that the newt man said to the younger sister “I want you to come and meet me here once again tomorrow and please bring rice and food too when you come. When you get here please call me.” She replied “how do you want me to call you?” You just say a poem “chhit chhoung mai tam ra chha chhit chha mai tam or-newt man, please come to eat rice”, he replied. Then he found that Doeng head for her. After that the younger sister returned home. She met her parents when she got home. Her parents asked her “why did you not come back home for days? Where did you go?” She replied “I lost the Doeng head. If I couldn’t find it, I didn’t want to return home.” Her parents continued “we told your sister to call you back.” The younger sister replied to her parents “my older sister told me that if I couldn’t find the Doeng head, I would be beaten or killed by you. So when she told me this, I did not dare to return home because I was so scared of you.” Her parents replied “we never thought about beating you or killing you; everything that your sister told you is untrue, she likes to tell lies. Your sister did not pass our words on to you because she didn’t want you to come back home.”
The next morning, the younger sister got up very early, with the first cock crow. Then she went to make up a fire and cook rice and food. After the rice and food were cooked, she packed them into a dried gourd. Then she went to fetch water because she was in a hurry to take that rice and food for her boyfriend, Tam Or. She always brought her boy friend rice and food every day from that time on.
There was one morning, she cooked the rice and food as normal and took it to her boyfriend, but Tam Or was transformed into a very handsome man when he took off his shirt. He could transform himself like this because he was a god. Then they ate the rice and food there. After they had finished eating they were joking and chatting near the river.
Then one day, her older sister was suspicious of her because of her unusual behaviour. Her older sister secretly followed her when she brought her boy friend rice and food to the forest. The older sister hid herself and secretly watched her younger sister. A moment later, the younger sister said the poem and called for Tam Or to show himself. Tam Or showed himself quickly after he heard his girl friend call for him. He was the most handsome, such that no one could compare with him. When the older sister saw the handsome Tam Or, she thought to steal him from the younger sister. She said to herself “it is because of this man that my younger sister is always packing up some rice and food every day.”
Then the younger sister told her boyfriend “from now on, if someone calls your name and asks you to show yourself, you should not come out. I will come to see you secretly. Tomorrow you will not see me because I have to go to help my grandmother pound the powder. So if someone calls your name and asks you to come out, please do not show yourself. You have to remember what I tell you.” After that they separated and she returned home because she was in a hurry to go to help her grandmother pound the powder.
When the younger sister left to go to her grandmother’s house, the older sister who was so deeply in love with the Tam Or, went to meet him. She went to her group members called Nhok Nhak, Tak Tong, Gong Guess, Gong Gery, Blan Tum, Matt Na and the man called Chhrem Chha Lem. She told them “I have a story I want to tell you and I need your help. In a forest there is a huge newt who wants to eat my younger sister so I want you kill it.” Her group members replied “are you sure, you want us to kill that wild newt?” she replied “yes, definitely.” Then she gathered her group member together and prepared a bow for shooting that wild newt.
When they got to Tam Or’s place, the older sister called for Tam Or by name “Chhit Chhong Mai Tam Ra Chha Chhit Chha Mai Tam Ngounh.” But the newt man didn’t show himself because he recognized that the caller was not his girlfriend and he remembered his promise to his girl friend that he would not come out if the caller was not her. He was sure that his girl friend was going to her grandmother house. So this was not his girl friend’s voice.
The mother of Tam Or didn’t know the promise between him and his girl friend. So when she heard the voice of the older sister calling, she told Tam Or “that is the voice of your girl friend. She is calling your name, please go and see her. Why are you so awful to her?” Tam Or replied to his mother “it is not my girlfriend’s voice, mother.”
Even though the older sister was calling for Tam Or for such a long time that she became hoarse, he still did not come out to see her. Tam Or’s mother had pity on her because she thought that she was the younger sister. Tam Or’s mother said to him “please go and see her, son because she has been calling for you for a long time.”
The older sister was very mad at Tam Or when he didn’t come out to see her. She mixed pea eggplants with other plants to poison him. She told Ta Nhot to watch for Tam Or carefully and shoot him if he showed himself. Then she tried to make her voice the same as her young sister’s and she said the poem “chhit chhong mai tam ra chha chhit chha mai tam nhonh” in order to trick Tam Or into coming out and having a meal as normal. When Tam Or’s mother heard that poem, she told him “it is your wife’s voice, she is calling for you.” Tam Or’s mother loved the younger sister very much and she wanted the younger sister to become her daughter in law. She tried to persuade her son to come out to see her. And Tam Or, after his mother had told him again and again, decided to come out. He was shot by Ta Nhot in the thigh. He was in a lot of pain and died a moment later; his body became soaked in water. His dead body was then grilled and eaten by the older sister’s group.
Meanwhile, the younger sister didn’t know that Tam Or had been killed by her older sister’s team because she had been helping her grandmother pounding powder since the early morning. When she got to her grandmother’s house, she didn’t start pounding the powder straight away. She lay down on the bed. Suddenly, her necklace, earrings, bracelets and other jewelry made of beads, were cut and fell onto the mat. It reminded her of Tam Or’s words “if ever she left to go somewhere or to her grandmother’s house and her jewelry was lost, it would mean that he had been harmed.” So she didn’t help her grandmother pounding the powder, she quickly returned home. She lay down flat out on her bed. She saw that her older sister, Ta Nhot and Ta Haheuy and the other group members were grilling Tam Or in the kitchen and that they had thrown away his front and back claws. Then the younger sister took those claws and put them on her head and she covered herself with a blanket. She stuck those claws into her chest until she died there on the bed.
After she had died, her parents blamed her older sister a lot. They said “your younger sister died because of you.” The older sister replied “I am not happy because she was the girlfriend of a newt. Why didn’t she choose a human boyfriend?” Her parents continued blaming her “they are both dead, your younger sister and newt man, so please go ahead and eat their meat if you want to. And it is none of your business if your younger sister is the girlfriend of a newt. You are so cruel to your sister. We have lost a member of our family now. We hate you so much, you idiot.”
As for the younger sister, her spirit went to find newt man at his god’s home village after she died. At first when she got there people beat her and mistreated her. However, she still carried on looking for her boyfriend. She went through many difficulties before she found her boyfriend. She met the family of Tam Ngonh, her uncle, and she asked Tam Ngonh “do you know Tam Or- a newt man? Can you tell me where his house is?” Tam Ngonh replied “why do you look for him when you are the person who killed him?” Then she replied “you misunderstand, I didn’t mistreat and kill him. He was killed by other people.” Once he had understood the story, Tam Ngonh told her where Tam Or was. Then she followed the directions to her boyfriend’s house that Tam Ngonh told her. She finally got to her boyfriend’s house.
Tam Or- newt man did not allow her to go inside his house when they met, he said “why are you looking for me when you mistreated me and wanted to kill me. It was lucky that I was not killed. And now what more do you want from me?” The younger sister replied “I didn’t want to mistreat or kill you, it was other people.” But Tam Or didn’t believe her and replied “I don’t believe you. You were the one who wanted to mistreat and kill me by asking other people to do it.” The younger sister tried her best to prove her innocence and explain to Tam Or but he didn’t believe her or forgive her. Nevertheless, she tried to show him that she was really not a hit-woman as he thought.
During her stay at Tam Or’s house, she went through many difficulties because Tam Or set up plans for her to do lots of work. Tam Or said “if you really love me, you have to take a bowl with a hole in it to scoop water and bring it to me. If you can do that you are allowed to marry me as your husband.” After that instruction from him, the younger sister went to scoop water but she couldn’t collect any water because the bowl had a hole in it. Tang Las- lightening man heard this news and one day he saw her trying to scoop water in vain. He told his mother ‘’mother mother see Tam Or is mistreating his wife by telling her to scoop water using a bowl with a hole in it. She couldn’t get even a drop of water.” His mother replied “it is none of your business; don’t try to get involved with them.” He didn’t listen to his mother because he had pity on her. So he replied to this mother “that doesn’t matter, mother. I will go down to help her because I feel pity for her.” Then he asked the bees to use their resin on her bowl.
Those bees mocked her, saying “that bowl is good enough for you.” She replied to the bees “you idiot bees, do not mock me. If you were mistreated by your lover as I have been, then you would face difficulties just like me.” Then those bees replied to her “you will have to pay us some compensation if we help you scooping water.” She replied “what do you want.” They said “we will need your sweat so you have to allow us to suck your sweat. Then we will help you after that.” So the younger sister agreed to let the bees suck her sweat. After the bees had sucked her sweat, they painted their resin on her bowl and her bowl no longer had any holes. Then she used that bowl to scoop water and filled all of the water tanks at Tam Or’s house.
When Tam Or saw that she was able to complete her task, he set up a new task for her for the next day. He told her to cut firewood. “Today you were able to accomplish your task but tomorrow you will have to cut firewood for me by using the bees’s resin as your Doeng head. If you can do that, you are allowed to marry me” he said. He ordered her in that way because he thought that she was the person who had wanted to kill him. Tam Or didn’t know that it was her older sister who had done that. That’s why he wanted to test his girlfriend.
So the next morning, the younger sister carried a small bamboo basket on her back and used the bees’ resin as her firewood cutting Doeng head. Since the Doeng head was made of bees’ resin it was soft, so she couldn’t cut firewood. At that time, Tang Las was fishing along the river near to her place. He whistled while he was fishing. When she heard the whistling the younger sister murmured to herself “if that whistler was mistreated by his lover like I was, he would be upset the same as me”. Tam Las asked her “who is that?” She replied “it is me. I was mistreated by Tam Or. He ordered me to cut firewood by using bees’ resin for a Doeng head. But I couldn’t do it, brother!” Tam Las replied “Oh! I don’t think that matters. If you agree to love me, I will help you.” She replied “how can I love you when I am Tam Or’s girlfriend.” Tam Las continued “if you love me, I will help you with cutting all of this firewood.” She continued “never mind that. Firstly, please can you help me cut the firewood? Then I will decide whether I love you or accept you as my boyfriend.” After she had told him this, Tan Las asked her to go to a shady place away from the place where the firewood was. Then Tam Las used his sword to cut the firewood and put it into piles for the younger sister.
The younger sister took the firewood to Tam Or’s house. Tam Or didn’t know that Tam Las had helped her. Then Tam Or told the younger sister “yesterday you were able to fill all the tanks with water and today you were able to cut firewood by using bees’ resin as your firewood Doeng head. So you were able to do it. But tomorrow you will have to weed the grass at my field by using these buffalo’s ribs as a hoe. If you cannot do it, I won’t accept you as my girlfriend.”
The next morning came, and the younger sister took the buffalo’s ribs to weed the grass at Tam Or’s field but she couldn’t do it because they were buffalo’s ribs not a digging hoe or weeding hoe. Then Tam Las saw that the younger sister was unable to do it so he went down to help her. He didn’t do it on his own, he called elephant, wild buffalo, deer, antelope, wild chicken, wild pig and many other wild animals to help him with the weeding. The grass at Tam Or’s field was cleared. Then when the evening arrived, the younger sister went back home and told Tam Or “tomorrow, please go to have a look at your field to see if I have weeded the grass well or not.” Then the next morning, Tam Or walked out to see his field and found that it was well cleared.
When Tam Or’s mother saw this, she said to him “please stop testing and mistreating her. Otherwise, she will die because of your actions. You ordered her to scoop water and cut firewood, she agreed to do it. Today, you used her to weed grass at the field; again she agreed to do it. I think that what you have done is enough. If she dies, it won’t be any compensation for us.” Tam Or replied to his mother “I have to do it because I was killed by her group. If she is talented enough to manage my tasks, she is allowed to marry me, mother.”
Then the next morning, Tam Or poured two big jars of sesame and bean seeds all mixed together on the ground and said to the younger sister “if you have the ability and you really love me you have to pick up and count all of these sesame and bean seeds and put them into two different jars. If you can do it, I will accept you as my girlfriend.” Then the younger sister went to pick up and count those seeds and put them into two different jars. It was impossible for her to pick them up and count them as there were too many seeds and also she was bitten by ants. She muttered to herself “why am I being bitten by all of these ants. If you were mistreated and used the same as I am, you would face this difficult time just like me!” Once the ants heard what she said they replied to her “it is an easy thing, it doesn’t look difficult. It will only take a moment for us to pick up these seeds.” The ants continued “if you pay us with some fat to pick them up, we will do it for you.” She replied to those ants “if you want this fat, please go and eat it at my mother in law’s house.” After those ants had eaten the fat, they brought crowds of ants to help her pick up and put the seeds into jars until all of the seeds had been picked up and put into the two different jars.
The younger sister was able to carry out all of the tasks given to her by Tam Or because she was supported and helped by Tam Las, the lightning man.
Tam Or’s mother saw that the younger sister was in a very difficult situation so she said to her son “son, please stop mistreating her because she is your future wife.” After his mother had said this to him, Tam Or stopped testing and mistreating her and allowed her to stay in his house with his family.
A while later, Tam Or told his girlfriend “you have to stay home with mother and wait for me to come back because I need to go to buy some stuff at the Khmer village. But please help mother scoop water and other tasks.” Then Tam Or left home to buy stuff at the Khmer village.
When Tam Or left home, Tam Las went down to help and produced many things for the younger sister and he dropped these things to her from the roof of her house.
Then one day, the younger sister went out to sit on her own outside while Tam Or’s mother was relaxing inside. A moment later, Tam Las dropped a comb to her from the roof. When she saw the comb she cried “this comb is the same as my husband’s.” When her mother heard that, she asked the younger sister “who are you talking to?” She replied “I am not talking to anybody I am talking to myself.” Then Tam Las took some beads and necklace and dropped them onto her roof again. The younger sister said the same when she saw those beads and necklace “they look like my husbands’.” Then her mother in law asked her again “who are you talking to?” She still replied“ I am not talking to anybody, I am talking to myself.”
A little while later on, while her mother-in-law was sleeping one night, Tam Las went down to take the younger sister with him. Her mother in law couldn’t find the younger sister when she got up in the morning. So her mother in law thought that her daughter might have had a love affair and gone with that man. That’s why she had heard her talking last night.
Tam Las’s mother was not happy with what he had done. She said to him “please do not try to take a wife from another man, it is not good. They are a couple, they used to be together and loved each other.” Tam Las replied “I pitied her a lot, mother, because Tam Or was always testing and mistreating her so I must take her from Tam Or and marry her as my wife. I will take care of her.”
When Tam Or returned from the Khmer village, he called for his wife but he didn’t hear her answer. He didn’t know what to do and where he should go to find her. He just cried because his wife had been stolen by Tam Las.