Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Media-spurned Jungle Girl sings in strange tongue

Media-spurned Jungle Girl sings in strange tongue

Media-spurned Jungle Girl sings in strange tongue


The naked, emaciated woman captured in a Ratanakkiri jungle on January 13 and believed

to be Rochom P'nhieng, a member of the Phnong tribe who vanished in 1989, has ended

months of silence in an unexpected way, her presumed father, Sal Lou, told the Post

on March 19.

The presumed Rochom P'nhieng.

"Last night P'nhieng sang a few songs in a Vietnamese ethnic minority language,"

he said. "She sang in P'hna language, which belongs to a Vietnamese ethnic minority

who live only in Vietnam."

Lou, who speaks Vietnamese but not P'hna, said P'nhieng's singing had made him reconsider

how his daughter had spent her time outside of society.

"Now I can say that during the time my daughter was away from me she stayed

with P'hna ethnic minority on the Vietnam side of the border," he said.

But the implications of P'nhieng's foreign linguistic knowledge may not be properly

investigated. Since the press corps' interest in P'nhieng waned, the Lou family have

been left alone by media and medics alike, Lou said.

"I recorded what she sang [but] nowadays no one comes to visit or do any observations

over my daughter any more," he said.

The lack of medical observation is setting back P'nhieng's recovery, said Professor

Ka Sunbaunat, Dean of Psychiatry at the University of Health Sciences in Phnom Penh.

"She needs to be observed by a psychologist or a psychiatrist," he said.

"During eighteen years in the jungle she would have experienced a lot of trauma.

There is also the problem of starvation. We have to observe to understand what problems

she has and be able to help her in an appropriate way. Without observation we cannot

help her."

P'nhieng could be experiencing culture shock following her re-entry into society,

so observation is essential if her real psychological, social or cognitive problems

are to be identified, Sunbaunat said.

Sunbaunat recommended that P'nhieng be returned to the jungle to start building an

understanding of her habits and behavior while living outside of society.

"At the moment, I have no idea why she might be speaking in P'hna," he

said. "These kind of questions are why we should take her back to the jungle

and observe her."

P'nhieng's motor skills seem sufficient, but her linguistic abilities have confused

many in the sleepy hamlet of Phsom, O'Yadao district, Ratanakkiri.

"She uses a few mixed up words of P'hna, Krung, Chhrea, and Jarai [Cambodian

and Vietnamese minority languages]," said Mao Sann, O'Yadao district police

chief. "It is very difficult to tell if she speaks any real language."

Although P'nhieng still cannot talk to the family that has adopted her - they speak

the minority language of P'hnong - she sometimes seems to understand what they say

to her, said Lou.

"She can draw pictures," he said. "Sometimes she speaks in Chhrea

and P'hna and laughs alone."

Lou reported P'nhieng had such bursts of semi-incomprehensible chatter immediately

after she was first captured. The family still believes she is speaking to invisible

jungle spirits.

Pen Bonnar, Adhoc coordinator in Ratanakkiri, said it was hard to tell whether P'nhieng

had been alone or with others during her time outside of society, as he had minimal

information from her family.

"My team visited P'nhieng on March 21 but said that she had not changed much

since they last saw her two months ago," he said. "She still lives like

a jungle woman and she still cannot speak."


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