The Coho ethnic group with unique traditional cultural values

Proper name: Coho

Local groups: Xre, Nop (or Tu Nop), Co Don, Chil, Lat (or Lach) and To Ring (or Thai’ring).

Population: 92,190 people

Language: Coho language belongs to Mon-Khmer group (which is part of the Austroasiatic language family).

History: The Coho are permanent inhabitants in the Tay Nguyen region.

Production activities: With the exception of the Xre, who practice wet rice cultivation (the name Xre means sub-merged fields), other Coho sub groups cultivate rice on swidden fields which they change periodically, using the slash-and-burn method to prepare the land for planting. In general, the Coho’s farming methods and tools are similar to other groups in the Tay Nguyen region. Apart from the using of digging sticks to make holes in the scorched earth to insert seeds, the Chil people also use a tool called the p’hal, which has a long wooden handle, a blade of about 28cm in length and 3-4 cm in width, and is used both for making the holes and putting the seeds into the earth. Among the Xre, the typical farming tools are the wooden-made ngal (plough), which has a flat base and wooden blade (later made of iron) and the rake with wooden tines. Ploughs, rakes and kor (to even out the field’s surface) are drawn by oxen or buffalo. Paddy rice is the main crop, but the Coho also grow corn, manioc, gourd, pumpkin, loofah, and beans, etc. The Coho practice informal animal husbandry. They raise livestock to draw the ploughs in their fields and as animal offerings in certain ceremonial scarifies. Basketry and blacksmithing are practiced in every family, but textile weaving only prevails among the Chil sub-group. Hunting, fishing, and gathering remain popular ways to supplement the family diet.

Diet: The Coho usually eat three meals a day. Formerly, they prepare rice and soup in a length of bamboo. Later, they use earthen cooking pots, and then bronze and cast-iron ones. Food is often served dry because the Coho have a tradition of eating with their hands. Soups are cooked with vegetables, with chili and salt being added as main seasonings. Meat and fish are cooked in a fish sauce with water or boiled with the trunk of a young banana tree. The Coho store water in dried gourds or ghe. Can (pipe) wine, or tornom, which is made from rice, corn and manioc and fermented from special forest tree leaves, is popular drinks that the Coho consume at parties and Festivals. Many people still enjoy smoking locally-grown tobacco.

Clothing: Coho men wear lion cloths and women wear short skirts. The Coho loin cloth is square piece of fabric, 1.5cm to 2cm in width, with designs on the two vertical hems. A cloth wrapper or sarong is neatly wound around the body, with one corner being tucked into the waistband. The cloth wrapper is often dyed black, with white designs being arranged along the two sides. During cold weather, people tend to wrap themselves with blankets (ui). The most popular ornaments are necklaces, wrist chains, bead strings and earrings.

Housing: The Coho live mainly in Lam Dong. They live in sprawling houses on stilts with curved, thatched roofs, bamboo-woven walls for resisting the cold, and astaircase in the front. There is often an altar facing the entrance, together with a line of pots, baskets and wide-bellied jars is found on the side of the wall opposite the entrance. All family activities take place around the heart.

Social organization: The Coho village (or bon) reveals many traces of the earlier matriarchal social structure. A Coho village is headed by a chief (kuang bon). In popular area, a volunteer alliance among neighboring villages is established, led by a M’drong, or head man. The Coho have two kinds of families: extended and nuclear families. Extended family, however, is disappearing and giving way to smaller families, particularly along national highways and near the districts or townships. Matriarchy is popular. The women take the initiative in marriage. After the wedding, the husband comes to stay with his wife’s family and the children are named after their mother’s family name. Coho couples marry at a young age (girls at 16-17 years old, and boys at 18-20 years old). This accounts for a high reproductive rate among the Coho, and it is not uncommon for a Coho woman to give birth at least five times in her life.

Beliefs: The Coho believe that every aspect of life is decided by supernatural forces. They believe that while people are blessed by their own God (Yang), there are also devils and ghosts (Cha) causing disasters and mishaps. Therefore, the Coho pray for success in everything they do, seeking help for good crops, marriages, funerals, or sicknesses. People believe that the spirits like eating meat and drinking wine, and it is a function of the importance of the ceremony that one sacrifices a buffalo, pig, goat, or chicken, together with alcohol.
  According to Coho tradition, rituals are regularly held relating to agriculture, such as the sowing of seeds, the appearance of new ears of rice, and rice storage. The altar nao is placed in the most respected and solemn corner of the house. There is often no longer a sophisticated wooden altar. Some simple altars take the form of tree branches on the ceiling, opposite the entrance door.

Education: A written form of the Coho language was invented in early 20th century; it is primarily based on the Latin system. Although it has been revised over the years and was taught in some of the local schools, Coho script is not widespread nowadays.

Artistic activities: Coho folktale is abundantly rich. The verses of lyrical poems of lyrical poems evoke romantic sentiments. The Coho also have many traditional dances, which are performed at Festivals and ceremonies. Their traditional musical instruments include the set of six-pattern gongs, gourd oboes (kombuat), bamboo-flutes, deer-skin drums, etc, which are used for ensemble or solo performance.

Festivals: Each year in December after the harvest, the Coho celebrate their Tet or New Year holidays. Coho families take turns sacrificing a buffalo for the village buffalo sacrifice ceremony. The ceremony is held outdoors, either in front of the house of the host who has offered the buffalo, or in front of the village chief’s house, or in the a spacious, public area in the village. People sing and dance around a ceremonial pole, called cay nieu. The meat of the sacrificed buffalo is divided and allocated to every family in the village, and its blood is applied to the foreheads or the villagers as blessings. The Tet occasion usually takes 7-10 days. The villagers circulate among the different village families to convey their greetings of the New Year. It is only after Tet, when one has eaten the new rice that one begins to implement important affairs such as building houses, moving the village to a new location, etc


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