The Jarai Ethnic Group in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

The Jarai Ethnic Group in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

Pop: 200,000+ 

Origin: China

Area: Dac Lac, Gia Lai Khanh Hoa, Phu Yen

Economy: rice, corn 

Belief system: animism 

Cultural characteristics: The Jarai are the most populous minority in the central highlands, many living around Pleiku , as well as northeast Cambodia and southern Laos. Villages are often named for a nearby river, stream or tribal chief, and a nha-rong (communal house) is usually found in the centre. Jarai women typically propose marriage to men through a matchmaker, who delivers the prospective groom a copper bracelet. Animistic beliefs and rituals still abound, and the Jarai pay respect to their ancestors and nature through a host or yang (genie). Popular spirits include the King of Fire (Po Teo Pui) and the King of Water (Po TeoLa) who is summoned to bring forth the rain. 

The Jarai construct elaborate cemeteries for their dead, who include carved effigies of the deceased, these totems can be found in the forests around villages, but sadly many are being snapped up by culturally insensitive collectors.

Perhaps more than any of Vietnam's other hill tribes, the Jarai are renowned for their indigenous musical instruments, from bronze gongs to bamboo tubes, which act as wind flutes and percussion. Jarai women typically wear sleeveless indigo blouses and long skirts. 

Funeral traditions: Traditional Jarai tombs are little huts in which are placed the possessions of the deceased and some offerings. Around the tomb are placed wooden pillars which are topped by crude carvings, some of which represent spiritual guardians.

The burial ceremony is extremely expensive and usually entails the sacrifice of water buffalos and cows. If the family of the deceased cannot afford the ceremony, it can be held up for several years.

After a number of years, the tombs are abandoned. This final ceremony of the abandonment of the tomb marks the point where death becomes final and the deceased spirit is released, thus releasing a widow for remarriage for instance.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen