The life of the world’s most mysterious tribe in Vietnam

VietNamNet Bridge - Deep in the forests and mountains of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang national park in the central province of Quang Binh there are several villages of the Ruc ethnic group – one of the 10 most mysterious tribes in the world.

More than 10 years after being recognized by the UNESCO as a world natural heritage site, the Phong Nha - Ke Bang national park has become a destination for domestic and international tourists and experts. But few know that deep in the jungle of the national park live the Ruc people in their villages.

Is there a bigger and longer cave than Son Doong in Phong Nha - Ke Bang?

ruc tribe, quang binh, phong nha ke bang

Ho Tien Nam is the first Ruc man to become a primary school teacher.

Stretching through the two districts of Minh Hoa and Bo Trach of Quang Binh province, the Phong Nha - Ke Bang national park has long been a particularly attractive destination for tourists and researchers in the world.

The national park is the home to the Thien Duong (Heaven) Cave – the longest dry cave in Asia - and Son Doong Cave – the world's largest natural cave.

They are also the first two natural landscapes of Vietnam that have appeared frequently in popular newspapers and magazines of the world.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Anh, with nearly a dozen years working as a professional tour guide in Phong Nha - Ke Bang, said she had not yet discovered all of this popular tourist site.

"This explains why the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park is so attractive to tourists, because this place has so much mystery," she said.

Recently, on the path to Son Doong cave, researchers discovered an ancient jar, with a height of about 60cm and many special decorative details. Experts said the jar dated back to the 16-17th century. However, the question about the presence of the jar in the cave, especially the strange position of the jar, remains a mystery.

Previously, it was rumored that Phong Nha Cave is one of the places where King Ham Nghi hid his gold. In the 90s, many people came here to search for treasure.

But the most impressive event was the discovery of Son Doong cave - the largest natural cave in the world at present. The first findings about this cave were discovered by explorers from the Association of the British Royal Cave Exploration in 2010.

Dr. Howard Limbert, the chief explorer, said the discovery of Son Doong cave was only the result of the discovery of 10% of a limestone desert in the middle of Phong Nha - Ke Bang.  Thus, there may be a larger cave than Son Doong.

During the war, Vietnamese soldiers hid their weapons and food on the route to the South in the Phong Nha - Ke Bang forest. The area has many revolutionary monuments.

Mysterious life of Ruc tribe deep in the jungle

ruc tribe, quang binh, phong nha ke bang

Mr. Cao Ong describes the "blow close" and "blow open" witccraft rituals.

At the end of 1959, the Ca Xeng border guards, stationed in Thuong Hoa, Minh Hoa District, Quang Binh Province, during one of their patrols, saw a group of ‘forest people’, very timid and naked, who climbed cliffs and trees with the agility of wild animals.

After months of approaching them, the guards finally managed to persuade them to leave the caves and settle in Ruc Lan Valley, Thuong Hoa Commune. Since then, the Ruc have been known as the youngest members of any ethnic group in Vietnam.

In 2013, after over 50 years of merging with the community, the Ruc were included on the list of the 10 least-known tribes in the world.

During a recent trip to Thuong Hoa commune of Minh Hoa district, in the core zone of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, we were lucky to witness the life of the mysterious tribe of Ruc. Known as one of the 10 most mysterious peoples in the world, the Ruc ethnic group was discovered over 50 years ago.

Ruc people lived far from the community for a very long time, so they are shy, and many of them still favor a primitive lifestyle. Though they have been known for over five decades, the life of this ethnic group is still a big mystery to experts.

“Ruc people can climb like chimpanzees. They swing on trees and are naked. The Ruc, like the Sach, May, Ma Lieng and A Rem in Quang Binh Province, are rarely existing pre-Viet Muong peoples in our country. Their life remains a big mystery," wrote expert Vo Xuan Trang in the book “the Ruc people in Vietnam".

According to Mr. Cao Ngoc Ha, chief of Lu Lan village in Thuong Hoa commune, Ruc people live hidden in the mountains, in little tents along the mountainside. They do not have schools, clinics, or markets. The Ruc farm for their living.

The leading expert about the Ruc people in Quang Binh is Mr. Dinh Thanh Du.

Du said that the Ruc have no family names and no tribal name. They live in caves that let water pass through, which are called ‘Ruc’ in the local dialect, so others call the people the Ruc. After anthropological and linguistics studies, scientists put them in the group of Chut people of Quang Binh, together with the tribes of Sach, May, Ma Lieng and A Rem.

Before leaving the caves, there were 109 Ruc persons. They lived in isolation and would run away at the sight of strangers. Their life was completely natural. They lived in the high mountains, hunting and gathering. Both men and women tied their hair behind them, covering their bodies with antiar bark. They slept sitting up.

The Ruc have left the cave, but they still maintain their primitive way of thinking. According to researchers, of more than 100 Ruc people, Mr. Cao Chon and his wife Cao Thi Bim (over 80 years) and Mr. Cao Ong are the rare remaining elders. These people not only keep the original lifestyle but the “charms” of Ruc tribe.

"It is not easy to witness their magic because Ruc people have a closed life and they consider the magic as their own secret," said Mr. Du.

Having left the caves over 50 years ago, the couple, Mr. Cao Chon and Mrs. Cao Thi Bim still keep their primitive way of life. The government built them a house and gave them land to farm, but they don’t live there. They moved back to the caves, hunting and gathering in day time, then coming back to the cave to sit-sleep at night, despite the government’s and their children’s encouragement to move.

The Cao Chon couple, and all of the other 500 Ruc people, still sometimes miss the caves. Every harvest season, many families move to caves to live for a few months.

Du, who has spent his whole life learning about the Ruc people, once witnessed Ruc people performing their witchcraft rituals.

Among the “witchcraft rituals” that Du knows, the most famous charms are ‘blow open’, ‘blow close’, and ‘air cut’ to help women avoid pregnancy or to get pregnant. The Ruc people also have charms to avoid beasts and expel demons.

Du said the Ruc ‘blow close’ to ‘blow’ a spell into a woman so she can have sex without conceiving; they ‘blow open’ a woman when she wants to be pregnant. They use ‘air cut’ witchcraft to avoid wild beasts. In the forests, a Ruc needs only to murmur some incantation, and the tigers, leopards and even wild elephants won’t dare attack them.

Du relates that during a field trip he took with Dr. Vo Xuan Trang, a linguist and folklore researcher, to learn about the Ruc witchcraft. Dr. Trang almost died trying to test the power of the air cut spell.

They went into a forest with an old Ruc man, and the Ruc warned them that they had to go at least five metres ahead of him. They should in no circumstances fall behind the Ruc man (who had at that moment already cast the air cut spell).

But suddenly, Dr. Trang intentionally fell behind, and he immediately fell down in convulsions, with blood foamed on his mouth. The old Ruc man came back and murmured something. Only then did Dr. Trang regain normalcy.

During the trip that day, we met Mr. Ho Tien Nam, the first Ruc man who passed the entrance exams of the Quang Binh University and is currently a teacher at a local primary school. Asking him about the charms of the Ruc people, he said the young generation does not know about them.

Nam said the elders teach witchcraft rituals to only one or two people, who are selected very carefully. These people will later be the shamans of the village and be responsible for leading the village.

Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Ethnic Minorities, Son Phuoc Hoan, said in 2013 the committee conducted a survey and confirmed that the Ruc tribe in Vietnam was one of the 10 most mysterious tribes in the world according to the following criteria: they have very outdated practices, are used to living in deep caves, and hunting and gathering fruits, but they also have a rich spiritual life; preserve cultures that have not existed in the modern world for a long time; and face a serious risk of population decline.

LD&DS/VN Heritage/VNN
ruc tribe, quang binh, phong nha ke bang