Note a description of the Mrabri Camp. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Ghristian Velder   

VELDER, CHRISTIAN. NOTE A DESCRIPTION OF THE MRABRI CAMP. JSS. VOL.51 (pt.2) 1963. p.185-188.

 

                                                                           NOTE

                                             A DESCRIPTION OF THE MRABRI CAMP 

                                                                               by

                                                                   Ghristian Velder


          On  Wednesday,   January  23,  1963,   we   left   Ban   Meo  Khunsathan,
Tambon  Santha,    Amphoe  Na  Noi,    Changwat  Nan  at  noon.   After  walk-
ing  in  a south-west direction  for  about  half  an  hour  we  came  to a place in
recent   forest   where  a  Meo  hut  had  formerly  stood   typically   built  on  a
platform   dug   into   the   hill.   Now   only   the   platform   remained.  On  this
platform,  seven  meters  long  and  2.5 meters broad  we  saw  the  ashes and
burnt   wood   of  five  fires   in   a   row,   1.5  meters  apart.  Our  Mrabri  guide
told us  that  this was  the resting  place  of  the  group which had left our  camp
the   night   before   at   dark.   They   had   slept   two  by  two  in  the   spaces
between  the  fires,   he  explained.   There   were  four  beds  between  the five
fires,   each  for  two.   The  first  and   the   last  bed  contained   a  few  leaves
as  cushion,   the  heads  pointing   to  the  hill,   the  feet  to  the  valley.   ( See
situation  sketch  2 )

          After   leaving   this  temporary  resting  place  we  walked  on  for  about
two  hours  to  a  high   ridge  in  almost  impenetrable  jungle.  From  there  we
descended,  always  facing  south,  a  slope  of   an  inclination  about  60°   and
about  100  meters  high.   As  we  clambered  down  holding  on  from  tree   to
tree,  bamboo  to  bamboo,  shub  to  shrub,  we  could  hear  the fierce barking
of  five  or  more  dogs  in  the  valley  below.    When  we  finally  arrived  in the
valley  at  4  P.M.  we  saw  smoke rising at various places between the  bamboo
thickets.  We  went  towards  one  of  these  smoky  bamboos  and saw the  first
permanent   camp   of   the   Mrabri   tribe   ever   seen   by   a  European  ( See
situation  sketches 1 and 2) The  place  was  quite  similar  to  the  one  we  had
seen  a  few  hours  ago : There  were  fires  in  rows  and  beds  in  between, a
few  windbreaks  made of  palm  branches  were  erected  at  the  left  or right of
the  resting  place, the  head  of  the  beds  always  nea r the  mountain, the foot
pointing   to   the  valley.   There   were   bamboos   above   the   headparts  and
trees   on   which   sometimes   the  Mrabri   had   leaned   their  wind-breaks or
bamboo  water  containers.

  

186                                        Christian  Velder

  

          To  the  north  of  the  camp  was  the  steep  slope of the hill and to  the
south  a  dense  bamboo  thicket  thus  making  it  almost  inaccessible.   There
were  six  resting-places  on  the  site  belonging  to separate families or groups
according  to  our  Mrabri  guide.   In  several  resting - places  fires  were  burn-
ing,  indicating  that  inhabitants  must  have  left  the  camp  together with their
dogs  a  few  minutes  before,  retreating  into  the  jungle. This  was the Mrabri
policy,   as  they  had  told  us  before  :   anticipating  defeat,  they  would  not
defend  their  camp.   They  are  superior  to  others  only  when  running  away
or  hiding  out  in  the  jungle.

          The  easternmost  resting  place  was  a  very  elaborate  one.  ( No. 1 )
There  were  windbreaks  to  the  east,   four  beds  of  single  sheets  of  bark,
another  four  beds  of  interwoven  palm  branches.   One  central  bed  had  a
small  recent  earthen  wall  around  the  head  portion.  On  the  hillside  there
was  a  dense  bamboo  thicket.  On  the  valley side a windbreak  was erected
on  wooden  poles.   Six  large  bamboo  water  containers  four   full  of  water,
leaned  on  the  bamboo-thicket.  Three  fires  were  burning,  two  more  camp
fires  had  been  used  recently,  probably  the  night before as ashes, charcoal
and  blackened  wooden  sticks  were  still  fresh. The place  was  designed for
eight  people  but  could  have  been  used  by  more.

          The  second  resting  place ( No 2 )  had  not  been  used  recently as  a
long   bamboo   branch   with   drying   leaves   was   over  it.  There  were  five
camp  fires,  all  containing  cold  ashes  but  none  with  halfburnt  wood  or the
like.   The  bushes  on   the   north  side   contained   dry  palm  branches   and
must   therefore   have  once  formed  a  very  effective  windbreak. There were
no   bamboo   water   containers   around.

          The  third  resting  place   ( No. 3 )  had  windbreaks  affixed  to  wooden
poles  on  the  north  side.    There  were  two  bamboo  flasks  leaning  against
trees  on  the  hillside. Two of  five  camp  fires  had  recently  been  used, three
contained  only  old  ashes. One  bed  consisted  of  dry, one  of  fresher leaves.
The  place  could  hold  eight  people  but  only  four  had  been  sleeping  there
recently.  These  three   resting   places   were  relatively   near  to  each  other.

          After  a distance  of  sixty  meters  we  came to  a second group of three
resting   places.  The   first  in  this  group   ( No. 4 )  was   the   biggest  of  the
whole   camp.    Four  of  seven   fires   were  burning   or  smoking.   Only one

2-JSS

1-JSS

 

                            A DESCRIPTION OF MRABRI CAMP                                        187

 

camp   fire  had  not  been  used  for  some  time.  There  were  nine  bamboo
water   containers   standing   around.   Four  of  them  were  bound   together
and   had   obviously   just  been  brought  from  some  stream  in  the   valley.
The  two central beds  contained  a  layer  of  well  woven  palm branches.The
other  four  beds  had  only  dry  and  fresh  leaves.  The  bamboo  on  the  hill-
side  to  the  north  was  quite  thick.  In  eastern  direction  there were several
trees  near  to  the  fires  and  the  beds.  The  place  could be used by 12 peo-
ple. It  belonged  to  the  group  of  the  oldest  Mrabri  in  the  tribe.
  

          The  next  resting  place  ( No. 5 )  faced  east.  There  were  two  walls
of  windbreaks  left  and  right, the  northern  one  enforced  by a high bamboo
thicket.   Three  fires  must  have  been extinguished  only  recently   as  they
were  now  cold  although  half-burnt  wooden  sticks  were  still  there.

The   last   resting - place   ( No. 6 )    had  four  camp   fires   with  three   ra-
ther  high  fires  flaming  up.    There   were   three   beds   but   only   two   of   them
had   been   used.     This  place  belonged  to  a  Mrabri  whose  mother  and   son
had   been  brought  to  our  camp  the   day  before.    Now   the   old   woman  and
the   child   had   fled   into  the  jungle.     The  man,  our  guide,  invited  us   to   his
place   and   there   we   got   his   flute   in   exchange  for  some  cloth  for  his  boy,
He   also   invited   a   few   of   his   friends   who   gradually   came  over.  They  lay
down   between   the   fires   to   show   how   they   sleep  at  night.  We  also   tried
to   lie   down   but  the  heat  was  too  great  for  anybody   wearing   clothes.

The   fires   glow   all  night  and  the  firewood  is  laid  alongside  the  beds
warming   the   whole   body   from   head   to   toe.   The   woman   we   had   exami-
ned   the   day   before   had   her   entire   back   covered   with   a   large  burn  now
healed.   It  seems   dangerous   to   sleep   so   near   the   fire   on  not  completely
fresh  leaves !  The  central  bed  was  used  by  father  and  son,   the  eastern  one
by   the   old   mother.   The   wife   of   the   man   was   dead,   he   told   us.    There-
fore   the   western  bed   was  not   used ;    dry  bamboo - sticks   laying  on  it  and
stretching    over    to    the   fire.     There    were    four   bamboo    containers,   two
containing  water,  leaning  on  trees  around  the  place.

The   whole   camp   stretched   over   a  distance  of  160  meters  between
the  first  and  the  last  resting  -place.    It   was   all   surrounded   by  dense  bam-
boo   and   virgin    forest.   In   the   forest   we   found   many  holes  in  the  ground
where  roots   had   been  dug  up  as  food.      A  bamboo  container   of  food  had                                                                                                                                                                                  

188                                        Christian  Velder


been   found   near  one  of  the  fires,   half  burnt.  The  contents  had  been  eaten
after   cooking.

In   the   six   resting   places   there  were  altogether  twenty  beds  in  use,
nine  of   then  single  and  11  double,    bringing  the  number  of  people  actually
living   in   the   camp  up  to  31.    The   camp   could   accomodate   and   had   ac-
comodated  another 14  people  as  there were 7 sleeping  places  between older
ashes.     The   tribe   might   contain   about   45   individuals.    We   had   met   22
men   the   day  before  in  our  camp,   plus   one   woman   and   one   child.   Con-
sequently  there  must  be  a  certain  surplus  of  men  in  the  tribe.

As   we   had   met   a   group   of   nine   Mrabri   in  August  1962  about  40
Km.   north   of   this   present  camp  it  seems  as  if  they  migrate  in  families  or
smaller  groups   throughout   the  year,   coming   together  only  in   the  cold  sea-
son  when   the  many  fires  of  the  common  camp  must  help  them  endure  the
cold;    each  individual   group  could  hardly  fight   separately.

 

 

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