I don’t know if this word comes from the Chinese or Cambodian language, but it means the wild person..
In my country, some persons who go in the forest to look for sandalwood, which is as precious as gold, have to put “ ngai” - a kind of magic grass in their mouth.
Thanks to this medicine, they feel healthy, not hungry nor thirsty. But they must go home on time. If they do not obey this instruction, by losing their way, or by forgetting the due date, they will become wild persons, unconscious and dumb, with long hair covering the body.
After 1975, the Communists occupied the South of Viet Nam, a lot of Vietnamese became wild persons wandering in the towns and countries, without clothes and food, crying and shouting because they lost their children, their husbands, their wives and their property. Maybe they did not remember where their houses or what their names were.
And after 1975, a number of Vietnamese escaped the Communists by passing through the forest or by crossing the ocean. The boat people could be drowned in the sea or arrested by the communist policemen on their way to freedom. The women were gathered concentration camps. They were inspected and touched everywhere on their bodies by the communists who were looking for gold or diamonds. The policemen robbed all their golden rings, watches, money and clothes .
They must work hard in the field or in the forest without clothes as the primitive people in prehistory !
One evening, in the sunset, I went home from Phu Lam, a country side of Saigon, and I saw a naked woman with the sun burnt body and the long black hair running on the rice field toward the town. Was she a ” xanien”? No! Although I was a long distance from her, I saw she was very young and healthy. She ran as quickly as an athlete in a cross country race. I thought that she was a woman just escaping from the prison and now she was on the way home.
On my way home, I always asked myself:
-“ Where is her house?”
-” What about her family?”
-” Do they still remain at the usual address or did they move?”
-” Did she get home safely ?”