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Debt-collector ‘vixen’ died after losing a cursing contest

Vietnam Heritage, July-August 2011 -- The women in the countryside called each other ‘vixen’, nặc nô, and my daughter thought it meant a doll or a certain kind of toy, but since the old days a ‘vixen’ had been a woman commissioned to collect a debt.
 The nặc nô in my village had the birth name Pho and didn't have a husband or children.  My mother told me, ‘Your dad smoked tobacco, carelessly causing a fire in a forest, and was put in jail. I had to get a loan to bail him out.  I had to pay very high interest and interest piled up on interest, and I couldn't pay off the debt. Then the creditor hired a nặc nô . . . .’



The nặc nô came and sat down in front of the altar of my house, took off her dress and picked lice, reciting precisely the details of the debt. At noon, she refused to leave, so my mother had to invite her to eat lunch, otherwise she would have put a curse on us, with five or seven generations of our ancestors' names.
She stayed until late and my mother had to give her half-a-pound of rice before she would leave.  But the next morning she came back when it was still dark, and my mother had to prepare betel leaves, tea and lunch. My mother asked her for time to pay, and had to offer a pound of rice instead of the half-a-pound of the day before. The nặc nô continued harassing us until we paid. My mother had to deliver the deed to an acre of land, to be transferred to the creditor.
When I was in fifth grade, the nặc nô was still alive. Her house was in front of our school. It was a thatched cottage with fir leaves piled up into a coal-dark heap on the thatched roof. The front door was a bamboo screen with a latch on the inside. The window was also a bamboo screen.
During break, I approached the window with small steps, opened it slightly and looked in. I saw her curled up on a narrow bamboo bed. I nettled her with a ‘miaow’.  Immediately she woke up with a start, ran out raising her skirt and shouting, ‘Cat, cat!  Eat this! Cat, cat!  Eat this!’
I fell into panic and ran back into the school. She ran after me as far as the front door of the classroom. Hearing the scream, the principal and several teachers came out, but they soon rushed inside as the nặc nô raised her skirt higher.
On Monday morning, at the flag-raising ceremony, the principal said, ‘Last Friday, Hoang Huu Cac nettled the nặc nô.’ The principal had intended a reprimand, but burst out laughing, like the teachers, and I was out of trouble. 
My mother heard the story and had me kneel in front of her while she put on a stern face and said, ‘The principal didn't punish you . . . but I will. Nobody wants to do such things.  We need to take pity on her instead of picking on her . . . How many strokes of the rod do you deserve?’
I apologized and asked to receive three strokes. My mother made me lie down on my stomach, struck me on the buttocks once and said I owed her two strokes, which would be delivered if I made another mistake.
I joined the army. Two years later I returned and wanted to pay a visit to the nặc nô’s house. She had died and the cooperative had built a store for nitrogenous fertiliser and insecticide where the house had been.
It was reported the nặc nô had died after a bitter defeat in a quarrel. It is a strange story, since nobody had been able to keep up with the nặc nô in cursing. She had an oral fight with a village man famous for his mischievous teasing, a gaffer called Mr Ngo.
One day Mr Ngo was hoeing when the nặc nô came up with a basket of sweet potatoes on her head, which had probably been paid by somebody who didn't have the money. Nobody could understand why she stopped where Mr Ngo was, raised her skirt and urinated.
 Mr Ngo urinated back. The nặc nô raised her skirt and started to curse, calling names from several generations of Mr Ngo’s ancestors. When she stopped, Mr Ngo cursed her with the words ‘F . . . you nặc nô!’ The nặc nô got worked up, cursing Mr Ngo aggressively, while he continued hoeing. As soon as the nặc nô stopped, he shouted, ‘F . . . you nặc nô!’ The battle continued till late in the evening, and was left off without outcome. 
Next morning, very early, the nặc nô came to curse Mr Ngo while he continued leisurely breaking up the heavy soil, making beds to grow tobacco. As soon as the nặc nô stopped her curses, he inserted his stock formula.
 On the third day, Mr Ngo was planting tobacco, carefully, each plant with its quota of fertilizer and water. When the nặc nô had become hoarse, then mute, Mr Ngo applied his trusted formula.
The nặc nô raised her skirt very high and jumped up and down, her eyes goggling, but as she was unable to mouth a curse, she had been defeated.
She shortly became sick and died.        

By Hoang Huu Cac
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