Darlac 3

Our path was beaten across fairly open country. There were rice-fields on both sides, but the rice had been harvested a month or two before and now they were deserted except for buffaloes mooching about looking for mud-holes, and a few storks. The Mois, who had nothing much to occupy themselves with at this season, were wandering about trying to find some way of using up the time between one drinking bout and the next. There were families sauntering along the path who looked as if they intended to walk a mile or two until they found a suitable spot for a picnic. The mother would be carrying a fat section of bamboo, with the food packed inside, while the father had a jar of rice alcohol slung on his back. The children ran about loosing off their crossbows unsuccessfully at any small birds they happened to see.
We passed fishing parties, organised pour le sport, more than with serious intent, since a little effort was diluted with much horseplay. The method in favour was for a number of persons to stir up the water of a stream or pool until it became thoroughly muddy and presumably confusing to the fish. Then they stabbed into it at random with a kind of harpoon shaped like a bottle but much larger and made of wicker, with a sharp circular edge at its open bottom. Both sexes took part and the fishing provided an excuse for endless practical jokes, involving duckings. These people were M’nongs, belonging to the same tribal group as those I had seen at Dak-Song, and one of the main divisions of the Mois, who occupy a large, vague area to the south of Ban Methuot. They are supposed to be slightly less advanced than the Rhades whose territory begins a few miles away to the north and who are the strongest and most numerous of the Moi tribes. You could always distinguish the M’nongs by the large ivory cylinders they wore in their ear-lobes. The ones who still lived by hunting and, occasionally, raiding were supposed to carry poison for their arrows in one of these hollow cylinders and the antidote in the other.
We stopped at the village of Buon Dieo where there was a new school to be inspected, one of the five in the territory. At a distance Buon Dieo looked like an anthropologist’s scale model in an exhibition, a perfect example of a village in some remote and unspoilt South-Seas civilisation. It was all so well ordered that one expected to find litter baskets, and notices saying ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’. There was not a scrap of refuse nor a bad smell in the village. If the long-houses had been a tenth part of their size you could have described them as arty and crafty, with their technical-institute pattern of woven bamboo walls. And the clean, new images at the head of the stepladders up to the houses, the geometrical patterns on the well-scrubbed sacrificial posts and the strings of dangling figures cut out of paper. It was all so much of an exhibit – rather too clean and lifeless – the ideal M’nong village arranged for the benefit of visiting students. But the scale of the thing saved it and made it real. That and the 7000-foot peaks of the Annamite Chain that formed the background. Some of the best cases were a good sixty yards long. The village was lifeless because the people were keeping out of sight until the chief could be brought, and the chief was hastily putting on the European sports-shirt he wore as a badge of authority.
The chief of Buon Dieo had the sad, old, wizened face of a highly successful Levantine shopkeeper with a tendency to stomach-ulcers. Besides his sports-shirt he wore a dark-blue turban, a loincloth beautifully woven with a fine design of stylised flowers, and an ornament in the form of a pair of tweezers suspended from a chain worn round his neck. Ribo had visited the chief only a few days before, so that it was hoped that the ceremonial forms to be gone through would be much less involved than usual. We first visited the school which the whole village had combined to build in ten days. Ribo said that you only had to appeal to the Mois’ imagination to get them enthusiastic over a project, to make them believe that it had their spirits’ approval, for them to be filled with this kind of Stakhanovite fervour. One of the villagers, who had been in the army and was therefore considered a man of culture, would give three days a week as a teacher. The school had just been inaugurated with the sacrifice of a buffalo and there were a few gnawed bones lying about on the floor. Ribo’s severe criticism of this seemed to me unfair in this model village from a colonial exhibition. In embellishment of the otherwise bare classrooms were several posters of Monte Carlo.
The common-room of the chief s house was furnished with impres¬sive simplicity. There were benches round the walls, carved out of some ebony-like wood, and clean rush matting on the floor. There was such a complete absence of household odds and ends that one had the impression of his wife going round tidying up after each visit. The principal objects were a battery of gongs of various sizes together with several drums, the largest of which, a massive affair hung with bells, the chief said was worth at least ten buffaloes. Not, of course, that he would ever think of selling it, in view of its sentimental associations. It had been in his wife’s family for several generations, and was only struck on occasions of great solemnity such as the appearance of a comet. The main beams of the house were sparingly decorated with what upon inspection proved to be advertisements and cartoons cut from French and American illustrated journals.

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