The mystery of the Ruc ethnic group in Quang Binh province, Viet Nam

In 1959, the Ruc people, who lived in caves deep in the forest, were accidentally discovered by a patrol team from the armed police force (now the Border Guard). After months of persuasion, 11 households and 34 Ruc people reluctantly left their caves and settled in the Ruc Lan valley (Thượng Hóa, Minh Hóa), where they built tents and started to familiarize themselves with farming, raising livestock, and growing corn…

From here, the Ruc people are known as the “youngest sibling” in the community of Vietnamese ethnic groups. They are classified by scientists as part of the Chut group due to similarities in ethnicity, language… but in their own lives, the Ruc people still possess unique characteristics, carrying a mysterious and undiscovered essence.

According to Mr. Dinh Thanh Du, due to their secluded lifestyle in caves, deep forests, and mountains, and their shy nature, it wasn’t until 1959 that the government discovered this ethnic group. However, the Nguon people in Minh Hoa have been in contact with the Ruc people for a long time. Since he was a child, Mr. Du has heard many mysterious stories about the Ruc people from his grandparents.

According to researchers, the Ruc people have a long history of formation, development, and living in the Truon area near the Vietnam-Laos border. After being encouraged, they moved to live in Dan, On, O o, Lu Lan in Thuong Hoa commune (Minh Hoa) until now. The Ruc people do not have surnames or ethnic names.

The elderly people of the Ruc village said that in the past, they used to live in caves, under arches, or make camps at the foot of the mountain where there were muddy waters (water from limestone mountains or underground). Because of this reason, other ethnic groups gave them the name “Ruc”. Mr. Du affirmed that the Ruc people inherited the Cao surname from the Sach people, after a process of interaction, marriage, and living with the Sach people.

Dr. Vo Xuan Trang, a linguist and folk culture researcher, once affirmed: “The Ruc people, like the Sach, May, Ma Lieng, and Arem people in Quang Binh, are a rare remaining part of the pre-Vietnamese Muong population in our country” – (The Ruc People in Vietnam, National Ethnic Culture Publishing House, 1998).

Before leaving the cave, the Ruc people lived in isolation, relying entirely on nature and maintaining many aspects of prehistoric life. It seems that the Ruc people were unaware of the existence of other tribes and had no contact with the outside world. With long hair down to their backs and wearing no clothes, they only covered their bodies with rudimentary tree bark, which was the image of the Ruc people at that time.

The Rục people are skilled at climbing trees and scaling high mountains to hunt and gather. Their favorite common food includes pounded rice, pounded yam, and small game meat, but their absolute favorite is monkey meat. Mr. Dự believes that when it comes to the culinary culture of the Rục people, the Nguồn people have summed it up with the saying: “Eating rice with big fish heads, choking but unable to swallow/ Eating pounded rice with monkey meat, savoring every bite.”

It has been over 50 years since they left the cave and integrated into the community, but the Ruc people still have a deep attachment to the primitive life, connected to nature, deep forests, and caves… Mr. Cao Van Dan, the Chief of Mo O O village, said that the younger generation has gradually lost interest, but the older villagers still have a strong desire to return to the caves. Every year during harvest season, they accompany each other in the forest and sometimes only return home after several months.

The Ruc people do not have a tradition of worshiping the dead. They believe that “the body returns to the earth and stones, while the soul returns to the mountain deity and river deity.” For them, the deceased become wandering spirits, and they only worship these spirits and forest spirits.

Living in the majestic wilderness, the Rục people have their own unique ways to protect themselves from any danger. According to Mr. Đinh Thanh Dự, there are still two mysterious forms of magic that exist within the Rục community, which other ethnic groups do not possess. These are the techniques of blowing tight and blowing open, and the technique of inhaling vapor. The technique of blowing tight and blowing open is considered a modern family planning method. They use a spell to blow into a bowl of water, and when a woman drinks it, she will not conceive, and vice versa. As for the technique of inhaling vapor, they also use a spell to protect themselves from the harmful gases and wild animals in the forest.

The future generation of the Ruc people will hardly know about the mysterious magic of their own tribe.

Mr. Du said that the Ruc people believe that if they use spells, wild animals dare not attack, and they can even lead a tiger. According to Mr. Du, it seems that after reciting the incantation, there is a very strong electric field around them, and any wild animal or person who approaches someone using spells will be harmed to their life. He also affirmed that he had witnessed the powerful skill of the Ruc people in one occasion when he and Dr. Vo Xuan Trang went to the wilderness to study the magic of the Ruc people.

Despite being warned to always stay ahead of someone using steam inhalation and to always stay 5m away, Mr. Trang unexpectedly fell behind. Immediately, Mr. Trang fell to the ground, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. It was only when the person using steam inhalation recited an incantation that Mr. Trang returned to normal.

Intrigued by Mr. Du’s storytelling, we ventured to the Ruc Lan valley to uncover the truth behind this tale… Mr. Cao Van Dan, the Chief of Mo O O village, along with two soldiers from the Cà Xèng Border Guard Station, led us to the home of a renowned healer named Cao Ong. At 80 years old, frail and unable to walk, he still possessed sharp wit and intelligence. He informed us that he could treat various ailments such as skin injuries, bleeding, and venomous snake bites… and each condition required different incantations. Besides using steam therapy to ward off wild animals for himself, he could also perform a magical ritual by drawing a circle for multiple people to sit inside as protection against these creatures.

After much persuasion, Master Rang Cao Ong finally agreed to perform the movements in the art of blowing and opening. No one dared to touch his ceremonial tools until his younger brother, Mr. Cao Ngoc En, arrived. Following Master Rang’s instructions, Mr. En arranged the tools for a blowing and opening ceremony, including: two bamboo tubes, one long (1m) and one short (0.5m), a small piece of stone, a water bowl, and a plate for flowers. Mr. En mentioned that they were missing beeswax candles, incense, hair strands, or thread to put in the water bowl.

Master Rang Cao Ong sat cross-legged on the bed, holding two bamboo tubes with sharp tips against a stone slab. At the same time, he recited an incantation with a melodic rhythm that echoed the enchanting sound emitted from the bamboo tubes. While reciting, he blew air into the water bowl.

According to tradition, about 30 minutes after blowing air into the water bowl, a woman who wants to prevent pregnancy can drink it along with a hair strand or a thread. Master Rang Cao Ong explained that the blowing technique is done in the same way, but the incantation will have different content. When asked about the content of the incantations and to translate them into a foreign language, he shook his head and said, “That is a sacred secret of the Ruc people, something that cannot be known by outsiders.”

According to Cao Van Dan, the magic spells mentioned above are no longer common in the Ruc community, and there are also not many Rang masters like Mr. Cao Ong anymore. The younger generation seems to be less interested in that.

Returning to the story with Mr. Dinh Thanh Du, he mentioned that he had diligently researched it but to no avail. After many years of study, there are still many “restricted areas” in the research activities of the Ruc people, from their eating habits, living arrangements, daily activities, medical treatments to religious rituals… Even recording the folk tales of the Ruc people is not as easy as it is for other ethnic groups. While the Sach people can freely share and discuss what they want to learn, the Ruc people are hesitant to do so.

The Ruc people are naturally reserved, especially when it comes to spiritual stories and religious rituals. They always prefer to keep these matters private.




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