The maintenance of marriage custom under social changes among the Cil in Vietnam


HONDA Mamoru

 This paper explores some aspects of the Cil 's endeavour to maintain some of their own culture in dynamic political, economic change. Here I examine the change of social structure through the analysis of relation among different minority groups and network of marriage relationship. This will indicate the probable presence of the social fluctuation model which is common in the Mon Khmer society in Vietnam. After joining with my research in 2000, Shine wrote his opinion on the crisis of disappearance of their own traditional culture[Shine Toshihiko 2007:211]. However when we observed in detail, we could find out some of their original culture. The contents of this paper are based on my participant observation of the Cil group of the Coho in Lam Dong Province for months in total during the period from 2004.  From 1955 to now, Social environment of the Vietnamese nation has been changing radically. Especially, the minority groups which were controlled under the Republic of Vietnam, sufferd great pains. Some of the minority groups in Lam Dong province used slash-and-burn technique for the cultivation in the field on slopes. These minority groups are recognized Mnong, Koho, Ma, Raglai by the Vietnamese nation which officially comprises 54 minority groups in 1979. Now, the Cil was one of local groups in the Koho, or the Mnong that belong to the Mon Khmer linguistic family. These minority groups form material society.

 In the 1960s, the Republic of Vietnam forced the minority groups including the Cil to converge on Strategic Hamlet. One of the Strategic Hamlets consisted of the several Cil's villages which were called bon.  Before converging on Strategic Hamlet, each village consisted of 2-3 descent groups, and a village member was usually married to a member of another descent group in their own village in order to make a marriage alliance. They called that system "the way of marriage". Under the rule of matrilateral cross cousin marriage, men of the Cil have to married to matrilateral cross cousin. In case this did not occur, women side chose a man from one of the descent groups of "the way of marriage". When they married bride side has to prepare groomwealth1 for bridegroom side.
 Spiritually, the Cil worshiped nature, revering the mountains, rivers, forests, fire, etc., as powerful forces embodying spiritual powers.  After settled down in Strategic Hamlet, they were forced to cultivate irrigated rice fields (However this program failed). Spiritually, they converted to Christianity (the Cil separate to two groups, one group believes Baptist Church, and another believe Seventh day Adventist Church.). It was difficult to live in Strategic Hamlet because they didn't yield any crops immediately, and the aid of the government for them was not enough. Furthermore, some Strategic Hamlets were attacked by National Liberation Front. Therefore, the Cil had became refugees.

 After Social Revolution in 1975, the Cil experienced in the economic policy of the communist government until 1985, and in the reformed policy from 1986. After 1975, ther some villages (bon) were installed in one village (thon) as a new administrative unit. They sometimes immigrated and separated as pioneer for the economic policy of government (The 2nd Five-Year Plan). After 1986, by economic development, and service of infrastructure in Vietnam, the living standards of minority groups including the Cil , are improving gradually.  Now, the Cil don't use slash-and-burn technique. They plant coffee tree, sugar can, persimmon tree, grow maize, cultivate irrigated rice fields, and are employed as farm-worker in the farms which were managed by Kinh minority group. In addition, rituals honoring the spiritual power of nature are no longer practiced, so that they don't hold agricultural ritual any more.  As for marriage, there were following some kinds of change. Before converging on Strategic Hamlet, bride and bridegroom often didn't love each other. However, after conversion to Cristianity, preachers commanded the Cil to make a match with love. Each rule for partner choice such as "the way of marriage" kept decreasing gradually. Each village began to have marriage relationship because love is the fundamental principle of Christianity for human. The other minority groups bordering with the Cil experienced similar situations (religiously, and economically). We can not distinguish the Cil and the other minority groups at a glance.

 Currently, we can find some cases of marriage of the Cil and other minority groups. And the minority groups, including the Cil prefer to marry a partner with the same religious background. Thus, Strategic Hamlet program was the turning point for the Cil 's society.
 On the other hand, in marriage ceremony, it is maintained that bride side has to prepare groom wealth for bridegroom side. For the Cil, groomwealth is the most important occasion to earn properties for preparing their own daughter's marriage. The purpose to keep giving groomwealth is good cooperative work for the both side. Now, the range of receivers of groomwealth is widening than before the 1960s.
 The reason is as follows. The result of village immigrants and separations, they have had new marriage relationship with other villages. In addition, improvement of medical care from 1975 brought increases in population. The increasing population needed immense land for cultivation but not available than before the 1960s. As the result, they have to maintain marriage relationship with other villages by giving groomwealth, and exchanging men continuously. By keeping this relationship, bride side and bridegroom side can help each other, especially about issue of land for cultivation or residence. This is one of the reasons for increasing to marry to other village's member. For keeping this relationship, to give groomwealth is most important objective to continue. The importance of groomwealth will not be changed in the case of marriage with a member of other minority groups. However, the conception of groomwealth for the groom in the Cil society has always been unique from other minority groups. While the other minority groups allow the postponement of groomwealth payment for after they marry. However the Cil don't allow easily. Thus, the conception of groomwealth of the Cil is considered by the other minority groups as being too strict. This could explain why there are a limited number of instances in which a member of the Cil community got married to a partner from one of the other minority groups. People who belong to other minority groups said, "Our group can postpone paying groomwealth after marriage, However the Cil can not do that. And, the Cil require many things for groomwealth compared with us. " Thus, the Cil keep it as their ethnic identity now. Besides groomwealth, when groom died and the funeral was hold, bride side and groom side would talk over about the next marriage to maintain a relationship each other. At that time, groom side would help holding the funeral, and bride side would give some gifts more than groom side would give in return.  Thus, after settling down in Strategic Hamlet, the Cil could not maintain "the way of marriage". However, the Cil continued to make another new network of their marriage. When I studied the Ma in Da Teh, they also kept custom of giving bridewealth, made new network like the Cil. However, comparing the Cil, they do not prepare a lot of bridewealth like other minority groups (Mnong, Ma, Sre) .

※Graduate School of Sociology, Toyo University.
1 After marriage, the bridegroom has to reside with his wife's family. For this reason, the bridegroom's side could receive some gifts from his wife's family in compensation for the bridegroom.


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This paper was submitted to International anthropology conference in Vietnam in December 2007.
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