THE PNORNG - Traditions of A Hill Tribe
By: The (Director of Non-Formal Education Department).Picture by: Toan Sophie. ( June, 2002 Volume 2 No.6 )

The Pnorngs are one of the mountain tribes of Cambodia who live in the northeast of the country, especially in the province of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri. They live in groups of about 2 to 5 families each comprising some 10 to 20 members who are all relatives, within one village. They often change their shelter, so in reality the tribes have no real fixed village. According to the Department of Non-Formal Education, the Pnorngs had no written language before and were simply reliant on their age-old oral tradition but now they have adopted the Khmer language adding a typical Pnorng sound that give the tribe its name. However, as with most other tribes and mountain people, the Pnorngs do have their own customs and traditions that are different from the other tribes around the country. Here are some of the customs observed by them that make them stand out rather uniquely amongst the other tribe people.


Men wear only Peung_a piece of cloth used to cover the genitalia. The woman folks use Hoeurtrang (thick cloth) to cover their tops (without underwear) and what looks like a miniskirt for the bottom. However, most of them are more comfortable being topless, especially married women. They weave cloth by themselves with cotton and dye their cloth using whatever material found naturally from around such as leaves from the trees, etc.


Usually, they will look for a place near a waterfall or waterway, but before they actually settle down, they would place a candle made of beeswax together with a sack of rice in that place and will sleep there for two or three nights to wait for a dream. If they have a good dream they start building and if they do not have a good dream they look for a new place again. Pillars are made of small tree trunks or bamboo and the roof is usually made from the leaves of trees or thatches. They weave thin pieces of bamboo strips to form the house wall. They always build on the ground and in the shape of a turtle. This shape keeps warmth in and can keep the wind out. Inside the house, there are not any rooms but there will always be a fireplace in the middle to provide protection from insects.


They have three mealtimes like most people do. They take rice, soup, meat, fruit, and sugar cane. The most popular dishes for them are the Samlor Bok (a soup cooked with a mixture of banana, papaya, chili and meat), Samlor Brong similar to Samlor Bok but they add more vegetables and Samlor Lvai similar to the Samlor Brohoeu, a Khmer favourite served in the city.


They work on the same piece of land for about 2 to 3 years and then they would change to another location, employing the rudimentary slash and burn process. First they find a place close to the waterway and then they would put up a sign called a Pass (bamboo divided into four parts and put into the ground to the four directions) to show that this place is occupied. The harvest always falls on October or November. Pnorngs call this period Ker Bot Srov (the month of striping rice). They do not cut the rice but they take only the rice seed. The farm owner does more than half of this work and then its usual to summon their relatives to help with the rest of the harvest to finish in a day. This last day they call Ranglochpa.


First the parents of both sides will have a discussion and develop a relationship between the two families for about two or three months. When the parents understand each other better, then a matchmaker is allowed to propose the wedding. The matchmaker gets only one liter of wine for the trouble. There are two kinds of matrimonial gifts; the first set of gifts is usually a package consisting of one pearl-necklace, a bracelet, ear-rings, one set of clothes, a comb and a piece of cloth for the bride. The second set is one huge pig, a pot, one javelin, one small knife, one big knife and three big jars of wine for the group leaders of both sides.

Rules Of Survival

There are many rules and customs affecting the Pnorng tribe people but the most important ones observed till this day, are:
1 - If one or two persons die by any reasons in their village, they will move their houses.
2 - When they are cutting down the trees for farming and if any people die by accident, they will leave this farm and find a new location.
- If any woman become a mother in their village they will not go to work for the day.
4 - If any animal gives birth to exactly three little ones or a hen chuckles at night or a chicken scratches on the roof, they would kill all those animals as they believe that this is bad luck for them.
5 - Do not allow any person who has had anyone in their family die, to live with their family.
Over the years, some of their traditions have changed. Now some of them are wearing the same as townies, especially those Pnorngs who come into town often. To some, it is so sad to see that their traditions are giving way to the modernization of their homelands. Yet to others, evolving with modernization is seen as a form of progress. We can only hope that the Pnorngs will always remain a happy people that they now are.