Stories from Bunong Communities in Northeastern Cambodia

Ai Chung Brang

This story was told by Tanaly at Khonkeo Village. Ai Chung Brang is a name of the main character of this story. It is a comedy which is similar to Xiengmieng tales among Lao people. The story is long and has a number of episodes, including that of Ai Chung Brang cheating his grandmother, villagers, Hor merchants, and a girl to become his wife, as well as that of him cheating to eat a tiger’s testicles and leading villagers to swim in fog. The following are two episodes of Ai Chung Brang cheating his grandmother and cheating a tiger to eat his testicles.

Once upon a time, there lived a couple who were slow and could not communicate in Lao well. They traveled to a Lao village and arrived at a river. They needed help to cross the river but could not speak Lao language. The husband prayed the god, saying, “We are stupid. We are always cheated by others. In our next life, we wish to have a clever and kind child. Our child must have intelligence to cheat everyone, including governors.”

Years later, twin children were born with the couple. The older brother was called Xiengmieng, while the younger brother Ai Chung Brang. Chung Brang became an orphan when his parents passed away. He lived with his grandmother at a hut in a rice field on a mountain. When the harvest season came, lots of birds came to eat rice. Chung Brang made a trap to catch birds for food. He grilled captured birds for his grandmother every day.

One day, Chung Brang wanted to cheat his grandmother. He said to her, “Our trap could not catch birds properly. They all fled away. I need your help to catch birds with a trap tomorrow.” His grandmother was pleased to help him.

Next day, Chung Brang placed a bird trap as usual near a rice field. He created a fake bird with a stool. He covered the stool with bird feathers. He then placed a trap next to the fake bird. Chung Brang then ran to his grandmother and asked her to help. When she arrived at the bird trap, she took off her scarf to cover her hands to catch the fake bird. When she found the bird fake, his grandmother got very angry and scolded at Chung Brang. She told her to get away from her.

Ai Chung Brang ran into a forest because his grandmother had scolded him and told him to leave. In the forest, he bumped into a tiger. The tiger was ready to eat Chung Brang. So, he said to the tiger, “Oh my comrade, please do not eat me. If you want to eat a bigger pig at my grandmother’s place, I will take you there.”

The tiger was pleased with Chung Brang’s proposal. The two left the forest and headed for a rice field owned by Chung Brang’s grandmother. When they arrived at the rice field, Chung Brang said to the tiger, “My comrade, wait here. I will go up there to chase a pig. You can catch it as soon as it comes running here.” Chung Brang left there and went up to the rice field. He then rolled a big rock from the hill. The rock ran rolling to the tiger, which thought that it was a pig. The tiger caught it to find that it was a rock. The tiger got very mad at Chung Brang and wanted to eat him this time. Chung Brang made another proposal for the evening. The tiger accepted it.

The evening came. Chung Brang and the tiger went to catch a pig. Before leaving, Chung Brang made fake nails by using traditional glue. He made his nails longer and sharper like a knife. He said to the tiger, “Can you wait here at the entrance of the rice field? I have to go inside to hunt a pig.” A pig came running towards Chung Brang. He tried to catch it but it ran away because Chung Brang’s nails were not strong enough.

Next day, they came back to the rice field again. Chung Brang and the tiger got inside and the tiger was able to catch a pig. They were very happy in the end. Chung Brang said to the tiger, “Shall we take the pig to cook in a forest?” Chung Brang cut a tree to carry the pig with it. However, he cleaned thorns of the tree only his side. Chung Brang said to the tiger, “Do not make any noise when you touch thorns of the tree. Otherwise, our food will taste bitter.” Soon after, however, the complained, “I feel pain because of the thorns” while carrying the pig. Chung Brang said to the tiger, “Do not make any noise. Otherwise, our food will taste bitter.”

Chung Brang and the tiger finally got to where they had planned to cook the pig. It was already getting dark. Chung Brang saw the sun setting and told the tiger to see the sun. Chung Brang then said, “Please go and make fire on that mountain. I will cut the pig and prepare food here.” The tiger ran up and down over several mountains and rivers but could not get to the sun. Chung Brang went back home to make fire and cooked the pork. He then selected the best part for himself and put it into a small bamboo tube. He then put bad part into a big bamboo tube for the tiger.

The tiger became tired and came back to see Chung Brang. He pretended to be angry and said to the tiger, “Why did it take you so long and yet you could not make fire? I already cooked the pork. Let’s have a race and whichever wins will get a big bamboo tube with cooked pork inside. They raced and of course the tiger won the race and got the bigger prize. While eating the pork, the tiger complained why the meat tasted so bitter and awful. Chung Brang said, “It is because you made noise while carrying the pig here. I warned you but you did not trust me.”

Several months later, Chung Brang and the tiger persuaded each other into building a house. Chung Brang made a proposal, saying, “Whichever house gets build first, the owner shall offer testicles for a meal.” They decided to build the tiger’s house first. They worked until noon. Chung Brang then told the tiger to offer testicles for lunch. The tiger followed accordingly.

One day later, it was Chun Brang’s turn to build his house. However, Chung Brang was clever enough to buy a pig’s testicles and already prepared lunch. At noon, Chung Brang offered the food to the tiger. After lunch they continued building Chung Brang’s house. Chung Brang made fun of the tiger by saying, “You do not have testicles” and poked the tiger with a stick. This made the tiger angry. He rushed to Chung Brang to eat him. However, the tiger could not run very fast because he felt pain after having the testicles taken out. The tiger was not able to catch Chung Brang. He ran away.

1. Pho Yal
This story was told by Maitha Sengaloun at Khonkeo Village. Yal is a name of the main character in the story. It is a funny story, which consists of a number of episodes, including that of Pho Yal working on a rice field, practicing swidden agriculture, making a hut on the rice field, hunting a dear, delivering his uncle dear meat, and working as a volunteer solder. The following are two episodes. One is about Yai working on a rice field; the other about Yai hunting a dear.

Long time ago, there lived some girls. They caught fish in a stream. On their way home, one girl got left behind because she was slow in moving. She saw a tree in a beautiful shape and said to the tree, “You are so beautiful. If you were a human, I would marry you.” Then, the tree answered, “If you want me, you can measure and cut me as you wish.” She cut the tree and then it became a man. He married her. He came to known as Pho Yal.

Yal and his wife lived together, until the season for swidden agriculture came. All farmers in the village went to work on a rice field. Pho Yal’s wife said to him, “Today, you must do swidden agriculture on our rice field.” So, Yal left home with a big knife and an axe and headed for a rice field. When he arrived there, he took out the knife to cut a tree. But the tree asked Yal not to cut it. Yal accepted the request and did not cut the tree. When Yal returned home in the evening, his wife asked him, “Did you finish cutting trees and clearing the field?” Yal answered, “Yes, I did.”

However, when Yal’s wife went to the rice field next day, she found that it was not cleared. So, she had to tell him to cut trees again. Yal’s wide then said to him, “Burn dead trees. If the wind comes from the head of the field, set fire at the head. If the comes from the foot, set fire at the foot.” Yal went to the rice field. The wind blew to his head. So, he set fire on his head. The wind then shifted and blew to his feet. So, he set fire at his hip. Yal had his head and hip totally burned when he came back home. His wife asked him, “Did you burn it well?” Yal answered, “Burn it well or not. Come and see me here.” She saw the wounds on Yal’s head and hip. She then went to clear the rice field for herself.

The wife found a dead civet cat on the rice field and decided to take it home. She stopped by at a river to take a bath. She put the civet cat on the ground, took off her clothes, and left them next to the body of the civet cat. Yal came to the river to fetch the water. He then saw the burned civet cat and his wife’s clothes. He thought that her wife had been died. So, he took her clothes back home.

When having finished bathing, Yal’s wife could not find her clothes. She had to hide herself in a bush until it got dark. However, when she came back home with the dead civet cat, the door was locked and she could not enter the house. Yal’s wife asked him to open the door. Yal said, “You have already died! Please do not come to frighten me.” The wife got angry and so broke the door to enter the house. Yal got scared and jumped out of the house. After a while, Yal returned house, when his wife had finished cooking the civet cat for dinner.

The season to plant rice came. Yal’s wife asked him to find a curved tree to dig a hole in the soil to plant rice. Yal thought that his wife wanted him to catch a dear to get its leg to dig a hole. So, he went to a forest to catch a deer. It was a very easy task for him because he was able to communicate with trees in a forest. Trees were his friends. They helped him block a dear and he caught a dear quite easily.

Yal took a leg, meat, and some inner parts from the deer and brought them home. He carried the deer meat along a stream, when Yal heard a sound of frogs. He thought that they were asking for the meat. So, he threw a small piece of meat into the stream whenever he heard frogs. The meat was gone quickly. Yal said, “Hey, frogs. I do not have enough meat. The only piece left is a lung.” He then threw the deer’s lung into the stream but it did not sink in. Seeing this, Yal said, “Oh, you are full now.” When Yal’s wife saw him come home with a dear leg, she wondered why he had no meat. She asked Yal, “Where is meat?” Yal replied, “I gave it to everyone who asked for it on my way back here.” Yal and his wife had go back to the stream to collect the meat.

After having come back home with the deer meat, Yal’s wife divided it into small pieces to give to the relatives. One of the pieces was for their uncle. Yal’s wife asked him to deliver the meat to their uncle and said to him, “If Uncle asks what kind of meat, tell him that it is dear meat.”

Yal left home with the meat. On the way, he became thirsty. So, he drank water from a stream. He started to hear a sound of the water flowing and hitting rocks, “jork, jork.” When he heard the sound, he forgot what kind of meat he was carrying. So, he went back home to ask his wife. His wife told him that it was deer meat. This time, Yal tried to remember it by heart while walking to his uncle’s house. So, he kept saying to himself, “Deer meat, deer meat, deer meat,” until he stop to drink water from the stream. He then forgot again what kind of meat he was carrying. He went back home and asked him wife for the second time.

Yal finally got to his uncle’s house and gave the meat to his uncle. His uncle asked Yal, “What kind of meat is this?” Yal tried to recall it, when a bird came flying and made a sound “Arng, arng.” This helped Yal recall it. He said to his uncle, “Deer meat!” Yal stayed at his uncle’s house that night. He then returned home with clothes that had been given by his uncle and aunt. On his way back home, he found a squirrel and a mouse trapped by villagers. He thought that they were feeling cold. So, he tore the clothes into pieces and covered the squirrel and the mouse with them. When he got back home, his wife asked, “What did your uncle and aunt give to you?” Yal answered, “They gave me clothes.” His wife asked again, “Where are they?” Yal said, “I gave them to children who were feeling very cold.” Yal and his wife went back where he had found a squirrel and a mouse, collected the pieces of the clothes, and brought them back home. Yal’s wife then sew them into sine or a traditional skirt. She wore the sine that night. Yal found it beautiful. So, he asked all young boys to come to his house and meet his wife all night.