The Ma Ethnic Group in Vietnam

The Ma Ethnic Group in Vietnam

Lables: Ethnic Groups, Ma ethnic group, Mon-Khmer Group

Proper name: Ma.

Other names: Chau Ma, Cho Ma, Che Ma.

Local Groups: Ma Ngan, Ma Xop, Ma To, Ma Krung.

Population: 25,436 people (1999 census).

History: The Ma are long time inhabitants of the western highlands.

Language: The Ma language belongs to the Monkhmer language group (Austro-Asiatic language family).

Production activities: Terrace farming occupies the most important role in the Ma economy. These are multiple cropping terraces. In addition to rice, the Ma grow other crops such as corn, pumpkins, calabashes, tobacco, and cotton. In the Dong Nai delta, the Ma cultivate their fields by leading a herd of water buffaloes into the field to pound on the soil till it becomes mud. Then the field is ready for planting. The Ma count the productivity rate according to the number of rice baskets they harvest from one basket of seeds that they planted. Working tools include the axe, knife, xa gac, sickle, pointed digging stick, and carrying basket. Fishing is fairly popular. In the past, they put poison leaves into the water to catch fish. The Ma are best known for their cotton growing and textile weaving.

Diet: The Ma eat rice mixed with chili, vervain, bamboo, and some vegetables picked from the forest. Some main Ways to cook food are to grill, boil, and to make soup. The Ma like to drink rice wine by using bamboo straws, and to smoke tobacco using pipes.

Clothing: Women wear long wrapped skirts and waist- length pullover shirts. In the winter, older people wear blankets over their shoulders. Ma women like to wear colorful necklace. Young people wear many "copper bracelets with carved signs of different sacrificial rituals to bring good luck.

Housing: The Ma live in their own villages called bon in Bao Loc, Di Linh, Da Te plateau, and in Dong Nai delta (Lam Dong province). There are about 5 to 10 house on stilts in each bon. Houses are made from different kinds of bamboo, the two roofs by rattan. The roof of the main door is curved into an arch, and made by reed and grass. Around their houses are many storage rooms for rice, and these are also built on stilts. The columns of this warehouse look like pestles.

Transportation: The Ma use mainly carrying baskets of many different sizes. Baskets for use on trips are decorated with flower -patterns. Along Dong Nai River, the Ma use wooden boats to commute, to transport, and to fish.

Social organization: The village is the highest social structure of the Ma; the head of a village is called quang ton. He practices all the community rituals. The Ma have two kinds of family relations: a big patriarchal family and small patriarchal family. The head of the big family is the oldest person of- the highest generation in a family tree. He runs all family business, and takes care of valuable possession such as gongs and jars. Within the big patriarchal family, couples with their children live together, but are economically independent. Remnants of big patriarchal families are still in evidence.

Marriage: The decision about a marriage belongs to the groom's family, However, after the wedding, if the groom pays enough betrothal gifts, the young couple will only stay with the bride's family for 8 days. If not, the groom will have to stay in his wife's house until he can pay this gift, and only then can he bring his wife home.

Birth: If the infant is a boy, his placenta will be placed into a dried calabash and buried in front of the house; if the child is a girl, her placenta is buried behind the house. Eight days after the infant is born, the mother brings him/her to the front yard to sunbathe. If the infant is a boy, the mother will bring along xa gat, crossbow, and a knife; if a girl, the mother will bring along a carrying basket, axe, rice bag, and weaving tools. Infants are named after their grandparents who have died. A boy can be named after his uncle; a girl can be named after her aunt.

Funerals: The Ma coffin is a tree trunk, cut vertically in half and hollowed out. Its decoration takes the form of a long house and a water buffalo. The deceased is given some possessions, such as xa gat, axe, and jar, clothes to be buried with him/her or put around the grave. After burial, the deceased's family will be refrained from going to the forest or to work for 7 days.

Beliefs: The Ma believes in God (Yang). They worship many Yang, like Yang Hiu (house God), Yang Koi (rice God), Yang Bonom (mountain God). They often kill animals to sacrifice to the Gods on the occasions of having a good harvest, giving birth, or when someone is ill or dies. The biggest offering is the sacrifice of the water buffalo, which happens when the planting season is over.

Calendar: The Ma uses the lunar calendar.

Education: The Ma does not have a writing system. Therefore, their folk literature is passed on orally from generation to generation.

Artistic activities: The Ma has a rich folk literature that includes legends, fairy tales, and folk songs called tam box. The Ma traditional instrument is a set of 6 gongs, made without knobs. When playing these gongs, there is drum made with water buffalo skin that leads the music, keeps the rhythm, and marks the end of the performance. Young Ma men play calabash pan-flutes, reed flutes, and trumpets made from water buffalo horn.


Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen