Customs and practices of "Khang"
is an ethnos having resided for long now in northwestern Viet
Nam, largely in the high-land districts of Thuan Chau, Quynh Nhai
and Muong La of Son La province; Phong Tho, Muong Lay, Muong Te
and Tuan Giao of Lai Chau province. "Khang" people speak
northern Mon-Khmer language.
Though with a small population which stands approximately at 4,000
now, the "Khang" ethnos is divided into different local
subgroups such as Dang, Hoac, Don, Sua, self-styled Hang (Hang
Beng, Hang Coi), or Bren (in Muong Te, Lai Chau). Different subgroups
have practiced different modes of farming which is considered
their main form of economic activities. Some subgroups build their
terraced fields and milpa by mode of nomadic farming; some adopt
rotation croppings, while others settle down, practicing wet rice
cultivation, with milpa farming only as their side lines which
help increase their family income.
Though living in mountain regions, the Khang people prefer building
their houses along rivers. They are very good at building piragua
not only for their own use but also for sale to Thai and other
ethnic groups nearby, as evidenced through a Thai saying: "No
boat is better than the boat made by the Khang and no knife is
sharper than the knife made by the Lao,"
Khang people group together in hamlets also called "ban",
each comprising from 15 to 40 houses built either simply like
huts by nomadic Khang or on stilts by permanent settlers, with
two unparallel roofs, wattle walls and doors opened at the front
A Khang hamlet is headed by an official called "quan cai"
elected by people or appointed by the Thai ethnic group's rulers.
In big hamlets, "quan cai" are allowed to force a number
of families to work as slaves (called "nhoc" which is
similar to the typical form of slave labor, the "hlun",
in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam), ploughing the fields for
15 days, transplanting crops for 15 days working the terraced
fields, harvesting crops... for them. In small hamlets, "quan
cai" do not mobilize "nhoc" labor, but hamlet inhabitants
have to do all the milpa farming for them.
In charge of the spiritual life of the hamlet people is the sorcerer
called "Pa 0" or "U ti a", who is greatly
admired and respected by people. Those who are cured from illness
by "Pa 0" through his practice of offering and worship,
shall come to "Pa 0" working the fields for his family
in order to express their gratitude and making such offerings
as a chicken, a bottle of alcohol or a jar of alcohol, four arms
spreads of cloths and a certain sum of money. Once every two or
three years. Pa 0 has to organize a rite to express thanks to
"Ma ngat a", his ghost, who has helped his work go smoothly
without any troubles.
The Khang society is organized on the basis of small patriarchal
families and the customary laws of this ethnic group protect the
male, For instance, after the wedding and particularly after the
period of matrilocality by men. the Khang women totally depend
on their husbands who may divorce them without any compensations
for the former's
families. On contrary, .if a wife wishes to divorce her husband.
She has to pay 5 silver coins (a former monetary unit in the mountain
region), a jar of alcohol and 10 silver coins a year as compensation
for his matrilocality. If the man's matrilocality duration exceeds
five years, a buffalo must be added to the fine,
However, traces of matriarchat regime which once existed in the
Khang society are stll found in coustorms and practices of this
ethnic minority group. For instance, during a man's matrilocality,
if his children were born they would be given the family name
of their mother, or the mother's family name was given to girls
and the father's family name to 30ns. if a couple divorced while
the Tu Bay Hap or Tu Ca Blong, a party recognizing the couple
husband and wife, was yet organized the property and children
would belong to the mother. Or if unfortunately, both the mother
and father died during
that period, children would worship only their mother, not the
father. Such traces were also clearly seen in the role of the
maternal uncle (the mother's brother) .in decidng the marriage
of his nieces and nephews who had to worship him when he died.
The Khang customary laws on marriage seem to be complicated,
under which boys aged 15-16 and girls 14-15, might court each
other- Yet, after 5 nights' courting, if the boy did not marry
the girl, he was subject to a fine of one jar of alcohol and a
party organized with chicken and rice for hamlet inhabitants,
asking for their pardon.
If a couple commit themselves to the married life after the courting
period, the boy's family will send people to the girl’s,
proposing the marriage. All expenses for the wedding and marriage
shall be borne by the boy's family, which usually asks the bridegroom's
aunt to bring betel and areca-nut to the bride's family, asking
for the bridegroom's matniocality. Whether agreeing to this or
not. the girl's family accepts the betel and areca-nut, which
wilt be handed over to the bride’s uncle later. After three
days, if the uncle does not return the betel and areca, the marriage
is meant to be accepted by the girl's family.
Three years after the wedding, the bridegroom family has to organize
the "Tu bay hap" ceremony. Only with this ceremony can
the couple be officially recognized husband and wife and be together
after they die. All people in the hamlet are invited to such lavish
Khang customary laws strictly prohibit marriage between people
of the same blood line, divorces initiated by women as well as
adultery, and advocate monogamy. Those who violate such customs
and practices would be severely punished. Meanwhile, such laws
also protect the private ownership of property. Any acts of infringing
upon other community and severely punished before the public.
Therefore, such social evils as thievery, burglary, encroachment
upon other people's land, etc, almost do not happen. It can be
said that the customary laws and their punitive forms against
violations thereof have constituted effective measures to maintain
order and security and to contribute to the enhancement of community
relationships In Khang hamlets. Alt these must be inherited and
brought into active play in order to make the relationships among
the Khang community stronger and healthier.