|Regions with significant populations|
|Animist (majority), Roman Catholic, Theravada Buddhism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Khmer Loeu, Khmers, Stieng|
The Bunong (alternatively Phnong, Punong, or Pnong, Khmer: ជនជាតិព្នង choncheate pnong, meaning "the Nong People") are an indigenous Cambodian minority ethnic group. They are found primarily in Mondulkiri province of Cambodia. The Bunong is the largest indigenous highland ethnic group in Cambodia. They have their own language called Bunong, which belongs to Bahnaric branch of Austroasiatic languages. The majority of Bunong people are animists, but a minority of them follows Roman Catholicism and Theravada Buddhism. The Bunong are considered as Khmer Loeu ("upland Khmer"), which is the collective name given to the various indigenous ethnic groups residing in the highlands of Cambodia, and Montagnard in Vietnam.
Bunong language (sometimes spelled 'Mnong') is the native language of the Bunong people. It is a member of Bahnaric branch of Austroasiatic languages and is distantly related to Khmer and other Khmer Loeu languages (excluding Jarai and Rade which are Austronesian languages closely related to Cham). There are several dialects of Bunong, some even recognised as a distinct language by linguists, most Bunong dialects are spoken in neighbouring Vietnam, except for Kraol which is spoken within Cambodia.
The Bunong practice a very diverse, dynamic, unstructured and often secretive traditional medicine. Originally tied to the large biodiversity of their forest environment, the wars of the 1970s had a significant impact on the Bunong culture and knowledge of traditional medicine, when everybody relocated to either Vietnam or the Cambodian Koh Niek district. New plants and practices were acquired by the Bunong in these new locations, but upon returning in the 1980s and 1990s, knowledge and use of plants native to their homelands had been forgotten by many. Adequate conventional biomedicine and healthcare can be difficult or impossible to obtain by the locals in the countryside of Cambodia - in particular during the rainy season - and it is therefore official policy of the Cambodian government (backed by the WHO) to support the practice of traditional medicines. Research shows that, as of 2011, 95% of the inhabitants in two Bunong villages still regularly use medicinal plants. It is hoped that the Bunong culture of traditional medicine can help to build respect for the environment and halt the deforestation and habitat loss of Cambodia on a local level.
Traditional Bunong religion is a form of animism centered on forests, combined with ancestor worship.
“The Bunong believe that nature is populated by spirits, both good and bad, and that these must be obeyed and appeased. No spirits are more powerful than those of the Spirit Forests.” - Chok Marel
In more recent years, traditional beliefs have been blended with Khmer Buddhism through proximity, especially after forced relocation during the Khmer Rouge regime, and with Western Christianity through deliberate spread by missionaries, justified through concurrent development support. It is perceived by some Bunong that those who convert to Christianity "abandon their belief in spirits, often cut down their Spirit Forest and consequently lose the conservation ethos at the heart of their culture".
Bunong in the media
Other works about the Bunong include "Living on the margins", the publications of Nomad RSI, the documentary film Last of the Elephant Men, and the works of Frédéric Bourdier.
- 2008 Cambodian census
- Vater, T. (2006). The Bunong: Caretakers of Cambodia’s Sacred Forests. Phnom Penh: USAID, European Union.
- Savajol; et al. (2011). "Traditional Therapeutic Knowledge of the North-eastern Cambodia Healers, their practices and medicinal plants". Nomad Recherche et Soutien International. Cite journal requires
- "Cambodia". www.cmalliance.org. Retrieved 2020-08-24.
- "'Half-Animal' Woman Is Discovered After Spending 19 Years Alone in Cambodian Jungle", Fox News, January 19, 2007.