Central Annum 4

At last, although from a glance at a side-table it was clear that more colour-combinations of liquors and mugs had been intended, the Resi¬dent seized an opportunity to rise. The ceremonial drum was rushed into position, the banners elevated and off we went, at a rapid if unsteady shuffle. But it was not back to the Resident’s Citroen that we were led. Instead the procession stopped before another house, a replica of the first, with the Spanish patio, the towel-draped chair, the felicitous cakes, the encircling notables and a startling vision of a liquor called Eau de Violette in lemon-coloured containers. This, we found, was the house of the religious head of the community, who was, if anything, more impor¬tant than the mayor, and we should have been taken there first but for the fact that our host had been caught unprepared by our premature arrival.

Next day the awaited news had come from Stung Treng, and it was discouraging. Cambodian bandits, displaced as I learned later by opera¬tions against them in Central Cambodia, had arrived in the area. It was a good spot for bandits, removed as far as possible from the centres of authority and yet populated by many prosperous fishing villages along the Sre-Pok and Se-San rivers; tributaries of the Mekong, between which the road to Stung Treng ran. The Resident said that he had business with the chief of the Jarai village of Cu-Ty, which was a good way along my road. This man was also chief of a secteur of villages and his jurisdiction ran as far as Bo-Kheo, being in this direction, at the native level, co¬extensive with that of the Resident himself. The Resident said we should be able to get up-to-date information from him of the situation on the borders of Cambodia and Laos.
Accordingly we set out in the Resident’s lorry, accompanied by a schools inspector from Pleiku who wanted to visit the school at Cu-Ty and an entirely Europeanised Jarai interpreter, who wore handsome French clothes and the latest fashion in plastic belts and wrist-straps. This young man, who was in his early twenties, was the first successfully Westernised Moi I had seen. He looked like a minor French film star and was indistinguishable from a Southern European, except, perhaps, that he smiled more. The Resident happened to mention that he was a young man of exceptional intelligence, adding that it was a further testimony to the inherent mental capabilities of primitive peoples, that he knew of another Jarai boy who had left his village for the first time when nine years old and had just been commissioned in the army after having passed out of the officers’ school with the highest marks of his class.
It was clear that the road westwards to Cu-Ty was regarded as of strategic value, because Jarai labourers were hard at work clearing the forest to a depth of about a hundred yards on each side. The vast bonfires they had started gave rise to a strange phenomenon. Millions of winged insects fleeing the conflagration were being chased by certainly thousands of birds; offering a wonderful opportunity for a naturalist interested in the ornithology and the insect-life of South-East Asia. Some of the birds were trim and tight-looking; flycatchers, perhaps, successfully engaged in a normal routine. Others, managing with difficulty their spectacular plumage, extracted less profit from the holocaust. Sometimes, absorbed in the chase, birds came floundering into the lorry and disgorged a half- swallowed butterfly before taking off. There were other predators, too, that benefited. The elegant hawks of the plateau of Kontum had gathered to feast upon those whose caution had been dulled by excess. The village of Cu-Ty was built imposingly on a hilltop, and its chief awaited us at the head of the steps leading to the veranda of his long- house. He was a huge, grinning villain; a Jarai Henry the Eighth, whose name, Prak, meant money. He possessed five elephants, three wives, several rice-fields and a jeep, given to him by the planter of Pleiku, who was reported to pay him ten piastres for each man supplied to the plantations, in addition to the half-piastre paid by the government. Prak was one of those energetic, scheming rascals, who could have been in other times a king among his people, but had sold himself for a trifling sum.
There were none of the elaborate Moi courtesies forthcoming where Prak was concerned. He had learned Western forthrightness in such matters, and awaited us on his veranda, dressed in a single-breasted jacket, while a servitor stood at his elbow with a quart of brandy and a breakfast cup to serve it in. Prak was not the man, either, to worry about ritual offerings of eggs and rice or tobacco leaves. He made a sign and a member of his retinue picked up a piece of wood, dropped from the veranda and fell upon a passing piglet. There was a light-seeming but practised blow, the pig fell shuddering and the man set fire to a nearby pile of brushwood and threw the corpse in the flames. The whole thing was done in perhaps two minutes. The sow wandered up and sniffed nostalgically at the gout of blood left by her offspring on the scene of the tragedy. We went into the long-house whilst Prak snapped out a few orders, sending his minions scurrying in all directions to line up alcohol jars and fetch water.
While the sacrifice was in preparation we strolled over with the inspector to visit the school. It seemed very large for the size of the village. There were about thirty children in a classroom, decorated with their own drawings of jeeps and man-faced tigers. As we entered the room the children stood and began to sing what was perhaps the school song, consisting of a repetition of the words, ‘Bonjour Monsieur, merci Monsieur’. The inspector praised the Jarai master for the attendance and the master told him that when any child failed to attend regularly Prak sent for the father and beat him.

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