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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Khmu Origin Story

I have another cultural story to share. I’ll type this one up myself.

I woke up at 6:30 am in the middle of the jungle. I wrenched my wet, mud-caked socks from the day before back onto my feet. Then I shoved my mud-caked shoes over them and slid my way across the campsite to the campfire. Our five guides were already up and busy cooking breakfast, so I moved to squat on a small rock by the fire. Sai, our main guide, spoke English, so the few of us awake in the early morning jungle started chatting with him. He shared with us the origin story of his people, the Khmu people. Imagine him sharing the following in a soft-spoken voice, squatting by the fire, preparing cardamom tea from the cardamom roots he had collected on the hike the day before.

I have included a picture of Sai explaining rubber harvesting later that day.

Please enjoy the Khmu origin story, as explained to me by Sai.

There are many gods. A god of the river, a god of the trees, a god of the sky, etc. Long ago, the gods decided to create humans. They put the people on earth, and they gave them food and drink to make them happy. But the humans grew greedy. They forgot their gods, never thanking them and indulging endlessly. The gods grew furious. They gave the people one warning, saying that if the people did not change their ways, there would be grave consequences.

But the people ignored their gods.

The gods decided there was no hope for their human creations, so they resolved to wipe out the whole race. They planned a flood.

The tree god heard this, and he had some qualms. He had been watching the humans closely, and he had noticed a pair that was good. So the tree god came to the pair, a brother and a sister, and he warned them of the impending flood. He instructed them to save themselves.

Quickly, the brother and sister decided to hide out in a large drum, where they waited for days until the flood waters had passed. When the flood was over, they emerged and looked for other survivors, but there was not a soul to be found. The brother and sister realized it had fallen to them to rebuild their ruined world.

The two siblings made a plan. They knew the had to repopulate the earth, so they decided to search their desolate kingdom for other survivors. The brother went north, and the sister went south. For years, they wandered, never encountering a single living human. One day, they found each other agin, and it had been so long that they barely recognized each other. For a moment, they both thought their quests were completed. When each realized who the other was, they were crestfallen. They decided to switch regions; the sister would look north and the brother south.

For years, again, they searched, and for years, again, they found no one. While finally the siblings reached each other again, they knew what they had to do. They mated.

The sister’s pregnancy lasted two years. When she finally gave birth, the baby was not a human, but rather a pumpkin. The brother and sister kept the pumpkin. Oddly enough, every night, the pumpkin would make noise. One day, the brother decided to pierce it with a hot iron rod. From that break, the pumpkin burst open, and out popped the Khmu people.

And that is how the Khmu came to be.