Stories of the Bru
Your little boy
I traveled in an easterly direction. At the field of coconuts trees I turned north. Keeping the Xepon to my left would lead me to the beast’s kingdom.
Being lost in a jungle is natural as breathing. If you fear being lost, you will die. My grandmother, though trying to hide rites of passage from me, often would talk of my grandfather and her sons.
“Remember, my little Tiko. You are lost as soon as you enter.” No one can navigate the clustered floor with thriving and dead vegetation. The deep canopy jungle of the Highlands will block out sunlight, even at the sun’s highest crest.
“Everyone is lost.” Laughing at the idea of focused routing among the thorny vines that could rip as much skin from a traveler as a tiger’s claw. She would repeat, “everyone is lost.”
My grandmother never hunted, but carried the seed of the tribe’s greatest tracker. Three heroic warriors sprung from that seed. I am pretty sure something of him still flowed in that womb.
She told me the jungle was a friend’s home. It will feed you and give shelter, as long as you don’t act “crazy.” Her exact words. Now you know why I love my grandmother.
Crack! I froze at the sound.
Silence arrived with all its eerie resonance. Cooing Mountain Pigeons streaked across my startled vision. That sound enough to frighten. Looking fat and content, something horrendous must have shaken their comfortable perch.
A rustle of leaves, I now worried. No elephant is so sly. They are blessed with the width and strength of a mountain. Fearing no one leads to sloppy stalking. This was deliberate and cautious.
I tried to focus toward the noise. My eyes began to tremble in their sockets. Depth perception is impossible with the level of flora abundant in this forest. I looked to the ground to prevent nausea. Vomiting now was not an option.
Another sound from the bundle of decaying vegetation clumped to my right sent a streak of heat up my spine. I realized the identity of my stalker. I no longer feared tossing my rice and fish lunch. My body’s systems shut down from fear.
My bow would not do. Lowering the spear, I stiffened my faltering body that began to shake. I turned my gaze slight to the right and left. Not to locate a possible colleague of my nemesis, but for fear of discovery. Discovery of my cowardice.
The quiver and all its arrows slipped form my shoulder followed by my bow. They now hung from the elbow. As a cumbersome combination of weapons dragged my arm downward, my eyes locked on the thick vines with inch long thorns that might impede the predator’s attack. Gritting teeth in hopes of advancing the ability to hear, nothing told of its intention.
Another crack signaled a few feet lie between the beast and me. I longed for the elephant. Its lumbering style could be avoided. It attacked cause it was crazy, not hungry as the tiger inching toward me. A crazy animal sometimes drifts off to a state of confusion. A hungry animal is not so distracted. My father’s spear caught a glimpse of sunlight that snuck through the roof of the jungle. The Thai blood glimmered looking as if just flowed. Would my flow be as shiny?
I took a last breath, as well it may have been. Bringing the weapon back ready to jab at the lunge, I ignored the quaking movements running up through my legs. The point of the spear moved in all directions. I wished for the big cat to pounce, before someone saw my terror.
The lunge hit me as boulder. My shaking spear flew to the side. I cried as the child I so denied being. The thump sent me backward onto a rotted stump. My bottom took the pounding. Sucking deep breaths to stop the blubbering, I saw my assailant. It was no tiger. The attacker’s screams laced with cries for her mother covered any of my embarrassment. It was the Chief’s daughter. I hated her.
Standing before the girl I acted with little patience. She ignored my false confident bravado. Grandma might have been wrong. Knowing that I was lost was not helping my courage. Or lack of it.
She cried through the words. She hated her mother and father and two older sisters. She hated the village and all the people alive or dead that lived along the Xepon. To me, we could have been friends. For I, myself had thought the same way.
Anyi was my age, maybe a month younger. As I wanted to act the man, she refused to take her place with the teenage girls of the village. She reached womanhood two weeks before. It has to do with them bleeding. I do not know how that happens. But some of the boys think their mothers cut them, as men will do to form blood bonds. I didn’t care.
I asked where her loincloth was. A sarcastic tone carried the words. She stopped crying long enough to pierce me with a look that would have killed any tiger. Ngti was nude. She wanted to remain a child. Her mother chased her with a sarong and em till she entered the line separating the jungle from the village. As my grandmother would say, “she was lost.” I had no time for such nonsense. There was an elephant I intended to slay.
I walked toward Ai Lao Pass.
As I traveled the path, tracks of the beast I was hunting appeared. I tried to remain alert, even through the rants of Ngti warned all of our presence.
As she continued, I now knew why I hated her.
When I was eight, my grandmother left me at the Xepon with some teenage girls. As the younger children in their charge were picked up, leaving me alone, they decided to have some fun.
My hair was long, as grandma hoped I would be treated as a gatherer and never taken to battle. Bru boy’s hair will be long till about four years. That is when warrior and hunter techniques begin to be shown.
These girls thought it funny that I should be treated as, to them, a girl. Due to my adoration and respect of my grandmother, it was easy to obey the wishes of people she gave charge over me. They dressed me in a sarong and em. Taking my hair and weaving it in a colorful cloth. I wore anklets that rattled as I jumped. Something they asked. While putting berry juice on my face and lips my grandmother returned. All I remember was the flying palms of the woman. They seem to leave her body, stunning one teen after the other.
Stripped and washed again in the Xepon, my hair was cut as short as any boy. Though, she still kept me nude and childlike. The rest of the village heard of the incident. Their mothers chastised the girls. I was being raised to be an eternal child, not groomed to be a wife. The point was understood.
I do remember one more thing. Ngit stood by the side of a tree through the whole ordeal. Her older sister was one of the girls.
Walking toward the lair of the beast, I heard the story over and over again. I wondered if an elephant would leave our jungle if given a sacrifice? Looking at Ngit, I shook my head. Her mouth might drive him away.