The Brau People
1989 Vietnam census found there to be just 231 people belonging
to the Brau tribe in Vietnam. Their main community is at Dak Me
Village, situated on a plateau in the Ngoc Hoi District of Kon
Tum Province. In addition, 14,000 Brau live in Cambodia and 13,000
in Laos. Small communities of Brau refugees also live in the United
States and France.
In Vietnam the Brau area is situated at the juncture where Vietnam,
Laos and Cambodia meet. Brau villages are constructed in a circular
formation around a communal house at the center. The Brau’s
home are built on stilts with sharply-angled two-sided roofs going
all the way down to near the ground. The front ridge of the rood
is decorated with sculptures in the form of a bird’s head
or the sun, which are common totems among many Mon-Khmer-speaking
Until recently the Brau were semi-nomadic people, roaming the
forests and clearing land so they could live there for a while
before moving on. Today they are more settled. In addition to
hunting and fishing, the Brau grow cassava, pumpkins, sugarcane,
mustard and bananas. In the 3rd month of every year they use axes
and knives to clear the land.
The Brau plant seeds by inserting them into the
soil in the 5th month. The men walk along making holes in the
soil with a stick, while their wives follow, inserting the seeds
in the holes. When the planting is completed the Brau hold a ritual
to ask tje spirits of the soil to bless the seeds and to ensure
a successful crop. This dependence on the help of the spirit-world
is essential for the Brau, as a poor harvest could mean famine
for the entire community.
According to the centuries of tradition, the
Brau file their teeth and have tattoos on their bodies and faces.
The Brau are a somewhat primitive people. Both men and women usually
go around naked from the waist up, except when they enter other
towns to trade with the Lao, Vietnamese, Bana and Sedang. Brau
women like to adorn themselves with large bamboo earrings, and
several large chains around their arms, necks and ankles.
Despite the small size of their community in
Vietnam, two separate classes exist among the Brau. The rich families
possess most of the land and own the majority of cattle, copper
pots and jewelry, which are considered the most valuable assets
that a Brau can own. At least 90% of the Brau population belong
to the peasant class. They are menial laborers for the rich class;
they live very basically, trying to survive from one rice harvest
to the next.
After marriage the husband is required to live
with his wife’s family for an extended—often as long
as four or five years. After that time he is allowed to take his
family to his own home.
A distinctive part of Brau culture is their deep love for music.
A set of gongs, called chieng tha are considered extremely valuable
and may sell for the equivalent of 30-50 water buffaloes. Brau
girls like to play the klong put, an instrument built with several
bamboo tubes. Air is forced into the tubes by clapping their hands
in various ways over the different openings of bamboo. If a young
Brau man wants to be considered an attractive partner to the girls,
he must show his competence in playing these instruments.
Most Brau in Vietnam are animists. They consider
Pay Xay the greatest and strongest spirit in the universe. They
believe he created the heavens, earth, rivers, rain, wind, humans
and animals. They also believe Pay Xay holds the power of death
over all creation. In some ways the Brau live in awe of this deity,
in other ways they are afraid of him. It is likely the belief
in a Creator, Pay Xay, may provide a cultural bridge for the Brau
to better understand the Gospel.
The Brau also believe in and worship the forces of nature, including
the "spirit of the sky" and the "spirit of the
water". They believe each individual also has a guardian
spirit whose job is to protect them from all harm.