The M’Nong was one of the first groups to settle in the Central Highlands. They have preserved many unique cultural features of their traditional festivals and folklore including epics, beating gongs, songs, and dance.
The M’Nong live close to nature and follow polytheism. They believe that genies are everywhere. The earth genie blesses the landowners; the kitchen genie keeps the fire and helps in cooking; the forest genie provides food; the genies of the mountain, spring, and waterfall maintain water sources; the agricultural genie makes bumper crops and fruitful trees; and the thunderbolt genie punishes bad people.
Traditionally after harvest, all M’Nong hamlets organize festivals to thank the genies and their ancestors for giving them baskets full of rice and cows and buffaloes. The wine festival and new rice, wedding, and maturity celebrations and worshiping of elephant show the identities of people living by wet rice planting, hunting, and gathering.
A brotherhood ceremony is witnessed by the genies
Luong Thi Son, Director of the Dac Lac Museum of Ethnic Groups, says: “We have many festivals to celebrate new rice and pray for rain and bumper crop. The most popular event is the farewell ceremony for the dead in Ea sup and Buon Don districts in Dac Lac. The elephant race of the M’Nong has become a provincial festival. The M’Nong also organize the elephant bathing ceremony and prayer for the elephant’s health.”
The M’Nong believe that after death one’s soul will maintain a connection with the living. The family will offer meals to the dead every day. After 3 to 5 years, the hamlet will hold a ceremony to see off the dead to another world. The ceremony consists of various activities such as beating gongs, singing, dancing, and performing folk games.
Nguyen Thi Ngoc is a researcher of ethnic groups in Dac Lac province. “The size of the ceremony depends on the family’s condition. Normally, the family prepares pigs and chickens and makes wood statues to place at the tomb. The popular images are elephants, birds, people pounding rice, a mother breast-feeding a baby, a man crying, or people beating drums.”
The M’Nong have maintained their unique cultural values including folksongs and epics. “Ot N’Rong” is the oldest epic of the M’Nong telling about the history of ethnic groups in the Central Highlands including the M’Nong.
The authority has paid special attention to preserving and promoting typical cultural values of ethnic groups. Mrs. Son again: “The government, especially the cultural sector, has implemented many activities to promote ethnic culture such as training courses on epics, ethnic crafts, dancing, and playing gongs. Communications has been enhanced to make people love their culture more.”
Community activities such as composing music, taking photos, singing, dancing, and telling epics have been held regularly to help the M’Nong preserve their cultural identity in modern society.