Darlac 5

It was at this point that the affair reached the administrator’s ears. As a result eight of the principals in the case were tried in the French court and received thirty years apiece. No Mo’i, of course, could ever under¬stand the justice of this, and it would be impossible to convince him that the appalling fate of the prisoners, all praiseworthy men in their eyes, is anything more than the revenge of the spirits of the eight who died. It is because their sacrifices were insufficient. If only their resources hadn’t given out, all would have been well. And there is something in the last suggestion, because it was only the exhaustion of the food supplies that caused the administrator to hear about the affair. Beyond the model villages of the M’nong R’lams lay the country of the less evolved M’nong Gars. The villages of the M’nong Gars were built along the banks of the Krong Kno in the shallows of which the villagers seemed to spend most of their day bathing or inspecting and resetting their fish- traps. The Krong Kno was a swift, yellow current, divided by sandbanks on which unconcerned M’nong Circes sat in groups arranging their tresses.
Buon Rocai, where Ribo had business, had been the headquarters of a well-known French anthropologist, who had been determined to live as a M’nong, eschewing all the aids of Western civilisation. Some time before our visit he had been reduced by various maladies, including beri-beri, to a condition when he could no longer walk, and the M’nongs, foreseeing the possibility of having to arrange the expensive burial ceremonies prescribed when a stranger dies in the village, got a message through to Ban Methuot, asking for him to be taken away. Fie seemed to have been well liked. The hut in which he had lived for a number of months had been declared taboo and everything in it was exactly as he had left it. The table was still littered with the papers he had been working on, with his fountain pen lying among them. There was an uncorked bottle of French gin, a miniature camera and several films. Ribo said that he used to exchange legends with the M’nongs and that their favourite was the story of Ulysses and the Sirens which much resembled one of their own, dating from the days when their ancestors, contemporaries perhaps of the Homeric Greeks, had been a seafaring people. In this village there were several sufferers from tukalau, a fungoid disease of the skin only found in Polynesia and among certain South American tribes. The M’nong Gar long-houses were not raised on posts like all those we had seen until now.
At Buon Rocai we were joined by the chief of a canton of M’nong Gar villages. He was importantly dressed in a thick black coat, a vest and carpet slippers, worn over several pairs of woollen socks. A Turkish towel was wound, boating-style, round his neck, and to complete this ensemble – which did not include trousers – he wore a ten-gallon cowboy hat with a chin-strap. The chief s face was stamped with the rodent expression of an Oriental who has had too much to do with Europeans. He smiled frequently showing a row of gums that had been badly damaged in a too- conscientious effort to remove all the evidence of teeth. The chief was evidently not a man to be afraid of ghosts, as according to Ribo he had committed two murders, but was too valuable for administrative purposes to be put out of circulation – an unusual concession to expediency in so stern a moralist as Ribo.
It was decided to stop next at Buon Le Bang, where the anthropolo¬gist’s fiancee lived, so that Cacot, who would shortly be passing through Saigon on his way back to France, could call at the hospital with news of her. When we arrived the village was in the middle of a ceremony. A buffalo had been sacrificed that morning and now bleeding collops of flesh, complete with hide and hair, were hanging up all over the village. Brillat Savarins were industriously engaged in chopping up meat and compounding it with various herbs, according to their secret recipes. Frameworks had been put up outside all the houses on which brilliant red strips, attached at regular intervals, were drying like chilli peppers in the sun. Scintillating, metallic looking flies spiralled about them.
The villagers were in a hilarious state. They had already been at the alcohol for four or five hours and there was a deafening clamour of gongs from the principal house. The ceremonial stiffness had long since worn off and we were assailed on all sides with offerings of raw meat and alcohol in bakelite cups. We went into the common house, in which, until they had outgrown it numerically, the whole village had lived. There was none of the strict division here of the M’nong R’lams, with the partitioned-off family apartments which it was incorrect to enter, and the common-room, with its neatly arranged ceremonial objects, where the visitors were received. This, instead, was a low, single chamber, perhaps fifty yards in length, lit by the two entrance apertures at each end, and a certain amount of light that filtered through the woven bamboo walls. The space occupied by each family was marked off by the formal arrange¬ment of the family’s possessions. This was applied even to the cooking pots, suspended from the wall, each in its place and exactly level with the neighbour’s identical cooking pot. The jars, too, formed unbroken ranks from one end of the house to the other. It was an astonishing display of a passion for order, which had arisen, apparently, from the exigencies of sharing the limited available space. One imagined some senior personal¬ity, in the role of orderly officer, running his eye along the line of pots on his daily tour of inspection, with a critical frown for the occasional improperly folded blanket.

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