National Geographic : 1968 Apr
night. Our wives cried when we left. We were afraid of the shooting and bombing. Nobody ever got killed, but many died of disease. It was very hard, and the loads we carried were very heavy. And we got tired." Y Bang defected and returned to his vil lage, which was now resettled at Buon Rocai. His sister, Hro Panting, however, still remains with the Viet Cong. She holds an important cadre post and operates in a village only a few miles from Buon Rocai. "Are the Viet Cong close?" I asked Y Bang. Freeman interrupted with, "Yes, about five feet away, buddy." The An Lac command es timates that one out of four villagers in Buon Rocai is sympathetic to the Viet Cong. A week before my visit, Captain Bo on a routine inspection found Communist propa ganda leaflets scattered along the paths lead ing to and from the village. Infuriated, Bo told Y Bang that he was a collaborator and con sidered executing him in public as an example. Freeman got word of this and asked Bo to wait until he could talk to Y Bang. Rebels Urge Slaying of All Americans As our meeting continued, Freeman pro duced one of the leaflets from his pocket. A cartoon showed an American being killed by a Viet Cong soldier. It was in Vietnamese and read: "Down with the American aggressors! They come to our country, burn down houses, kill our people, rape the women, force sol diers' wives into adultery with them. How can you stand that? Turn your weapons against them. Kill all Americans and save this coun try from their domination." Y Bang denied all knowledge of how the leaflets got to the village and pleaded with Freeman to intervene with Captain Bo to spare his life. Captain Bo at last relented. Before the as sembled villagers, the commander advised Y Bang to avoid any suggestion of VC collab oration in the future, or he again might find himself facing a threat of execution. A few evenings later I was sitting in the house of Y Bang Rlik, a village elder of Buon Rocai. Like many primitive peoples, the Mnong have built up a mythology to explain life and their place in it. As we sipped rice wine, I asked my host, "How did the world begin?" He told me this story: "Many, many years ago men lived under the ground and all the world was a rock. They lived with their animals far below. Then one day a man and his wife were following a monkey that their dog was chasing through 480 an endless rock tunnel. After a long trip they emerged on the surface of the world, a great black flat rock. They returned home, gathered seeds and worms, and brought them to the sur face. Soon the seeds sprang up and the worms multiplied and life on the earth began." Like the Jeh, the Mnong live their lives in a web of superstitions, taboos, and spirits. My guide through the spirit realm was Y Bang Bu Prek, the leading sorcerer of the village of Hard way to hold a fish: A Mnong grips one with his teeth while hands reach for more. When fishing be came poor, tribesmen dis covered a new method tossing grenades into the water. Stunned by the con cussion, the large silver fish, a kind of carp, float momentarily to the surface. The villagers have an in stant to gather them in be fore they recover or the current sweeps them away. In the highlands of South Viet Nam, summer mon soons drench the jungles and freshen the rivers after a hot, dry spring. Phi Di Ya. He wore a constant gap-toothed smile, ivory ear plugs, a red flannel shirt, and a nondescript loincloth. "How do you tell an honest man from a thief?" I asked him. "Simple. Put their hands in boiling water. The hand of the honest man will not burn." Y Bang Bu Prek had his own miracle treat ment for any illness. He simply dropped spiders on the head of the sick person.