Proper name: Ra Glai.
Local groups: Rai (in Ham Tan – Binh Thuan) Hoang, La Oang (in Due Trong – Lam Dong)…
Population: 71,696 people.(1999 census).
Language: Raglai language belongs to the Malayo- Polynesian language group (of the Austronesian language family). As a result of their contacts with other neighboring ethnic groups, the Raglai are bilingual or multi-lingual. The common language plays an important role in communication among the Raglai themselves and with other groups.
History: The Raglai have been living for a long time in the southern-central parts of the country.
Production activities: The Raglai cultivate swidden fields as their primary economic activity, although some wet- rice cultivation is also practiced nowadays. On the burnt- over land, they grow rice, corn, beans, pumpkins and fruit trees. The land is developed using a cha gac, a large kitchen knife or axe. The Raglai use a short and sharp pointed digging stick to make holes for sowing seeds. A small rake is used in weeding, and they harvest their crops by hand. The Raglai practice animal husbandry, raising cattle, buffalo, pigs, and poultry. Blacksmithing and basketry are widespread handicrafts. Weaving is not developed.
Diet: Breakfast and dinner are the main meals. Lunch is often brought to the fields. Soup is cooked with meat, fish and other vegetables – they are the favorite foods of the Raglai. Water is stored in a dried pumpkin gourds, as is pipe- wine. The Raglai chop the tobacco leaves and then wrap the tobacco in corn leaves for smoking, a popular pastime.
Clothing: It is hard to find the traditional clothing of the Raglai. Today, men wear pants and a shirt, women wear skirts or pants with a ba ba blouse (a kind of shirt used by Southern Vietnamese women). In the past, men did not wear shirts, but were attired only a simple undecorated loin cloth. On the traditional festival days, women wear long dresses ornamented with square pieces of red and white colored cloth at the top.
Housing: The Raglai live at high elevations (from 500 – 1000 m) in mountainous and valley areas mainly in the districts of Ninh Son (Ninh Thuan), Bac Binh (Binh Thuan) and other areas in Phu Yen, Khanh Hoa, Lam Dong. Formerly, the Raglai lived in the houses built on stilts. Today, houses built directly on the ground are more popular. Some houses are square- shaped and about 12-14m2 large. Other houses are larger and their shapes are rectangular. Raglai building techniques are quite simple they mainly use tree branches and tight rope as lashing. The roof is made by thatch or may leaves. Partitions are made by plaited bamboo and wattle and daub methods.
Transportation: Like other ethnic groups in Truong Son Highlands, the chief means the Raglai use for transporting goods is the gui or back basket with shoulder straps of bamboo or rattan. The gui is made simply and usually has no decorated motifs. Gui are made in different sizes to suit the work and the shoulders of the carrier.
Social organization: The Raglai has many family lineages living in one village. In necessary situations, the “Committee of Elders” will be established which is based upon the approval of each member in the village. Each village has its own chief who is credited as the first to claim and cultivate the land. If many villages are located in the same mountainous area, there will be a mountainous chief as well as village chiefs. Ritual specialists also are well-established. Raglai social relationships in the past and the present are strongly influenced by matriarchal traditions.
Marriage: Love before the wedding by a Raglai couple is an accepted practice. Raglai weddings generally follow a complicated process. The wedding ceremony takes place with both sides of the family: the first ceremony is held in the bride’s family, and the second in the groom’s family. The most important ritual in the Raglai wedding ceremony is the mat-spreading custom for both the bride and groom. The bride and groom will sit on this mat and mother’s younger brother of both sides will “worship their ancestors and gods to inform them of the couple’s marriage. The couple’s first meal is also taken on this mat, and witnessed by relatives of both families. After the marriage, it is common for the groom to live with the bride’s family.
Birth: Before and after the birth, a Raglai woman will abstain from eating certain foods, will avoid saying the names of certain animals, and will avoid doing heavy work. The husband will build a small house on the edge of forest for his wife to use when ^he is ready to give birth. A Raglai woman gives birth in the seated position, and do most of the work themselves without the help of others. However, in some areas, a woman may be assisted by an experienced midwife. Seven days after giving birth, the mother will carry the child to her house and she can continue to work as usual. Today, Raglai women usually go to the local clinic to give birth with the help of nurses.
Funerals: The dead will usually be wrapped in cloth or old clothes and then put in coffin which is made of a hollowed-out tree trunk. However, in some areas and depending on the economic situation of the family, the deceased may simply be wrapped in tree bark. The deceased will be buried in the swidden fields or in the forest, with the head directed to the West. When the family has sufficient economic resources, they will hold the burial ritual and build the tomb for the deceased. Surrounding the tomb, the Raglia plant banana, pine apple and red colocasia trees and sugar cane. On the top of the tomb they carve a ship and an image of the bong lau bird. Things belonging to the deceased will be destroyed and put inside and around the tomb.
Festivals: Following the agricultural cycle, the Raglai often carry out rituals when choosing land for cultivation, when slashing and burning their fields, when sowing seeds, and when harvesting their rice crop. Following the cycle of life, the Raglai perform rituals when they give birth, when there is an illness in the family, and when there are weddings and funerals. The big annual rituals are mainly carried out in January or February, just after harvest and a time when weddings and funerals are also held. This time serves as the Tet holiday for the Raglai.
Beliefs: The Raglai believe that there is a spiritual world surrounding them, yet it is out of reach of their knowledge. All the spirits can cause disaster, but they can help the Raglai if they are venerated and prayers are offered to them. The souls of the deceased are the most important spirits and they also cause the most fear. The Raglai also believe that spirits can change their shapes into the forms of animals. Therefore, every year they carry out the ritual ceremonies and offerings with the hope that God’ and the spirits will help them. Ritual specialists also participate in these ritual ceremonies; many now no longer work in the fields, but serve full-time in this official occupation.
The Raglai have old tales, legends, folk lyrics, and proverbs which contain their thoughts and feelings. The Raglai have very diversified musical instruments. A set of bronze gongs has twelve pieces. However, the Raglai generally use only 4, 6, 7 or 9 pieces. The monochord and various types of instruments made of bamboo tubes are the most widely used. The Raglai also play a stone xylophone which creates a unique sound. This kind of music instrument is very interesting and unique to the Raglai and can be used in place of gongs.