Long tong festival
A Tay ethic man, Nong Ich Lai and his entire commune in the northern province of Cao Bang’s Boc Thuong Village are excitedly preparing for the long tong (going to the field) festival, which lasts through the first month of the Year of the Buffalo.
Starting on the first day of Tet, people of all ages come together in the village’s largest field to perform the long tong ceremony, where the God of agriculture is worshipped by the Tay and Nung ethnic groups and the villagers pray for a successful year ahead, says Lai.
Traditionally, the ceremony would continue until the rice, meat and wine ran out, but now the event lasts three days.
On the first day of Tet, people visit the houses of their relatives and neighbours to wish them a happy and lucky new year.
The next day is devoted to folk songs such as hat luon (love duet) and hat sli (alternating songs). Anyone who witnesses these performances would be impressed by the way the smooth melodies harmonise with the sound of the forests and mountains, says Lai.
The performances also give young people a chance to make friends, renew their acquaintances or even find romance for the coming year.
"My family, including my parents, and younger brothers and sisters, have already prepared their new clothes and my children are learning folk songs to join the ceremony," says Lai, adding that one of his brothers met his fiancee at the last Tet ceremony. They will be married this Autumn.
Lai says the most important part of the ceremony is when each family prepares a tray of Tet specialities to bring to the largest field in the commune. Often this food includes banh chung (square glutinous rice cakes with green beans and pork), boiled rooster and boiled eggs dyed red, violet, yellow and green. The villagers also prepare red and yellow sticky rice to symbolise the sun and the moon and fruits to offer to the agriculture god.
The trays are arranged in a row, with the sorcerer’s tray coming first since he is the most respected elder in the region and also the main host of the festival.
People stand around the trays and burn incense as the sorcerer whispers a long speech, kowtows and prays under his breath to the gods of agriculture, mountains and waters and the village’s tutelary genie to assist and preserve favourable weather year round so the people can have a prosperous and peaceful life.
On the last day of the ceremony, people descend onto the chosen field to compete in farming, irrigation and ploughing competitions.
The long tong festival is the customs of the Tay and Nung ethnic groups in the northern provinces of Cao Bang, Lang Son, Bac Can, Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang and Thai Nguyen.
While the Tay and Nung pray in the field, the Muong ethnic group strike gongs to herald the new year.
The Muong people of the north-western region are known for their cong chieng (gong) festivals, which take place over the first month of the lunar year.
In addition to gongs, the Muong people play two- stringed violins, flutes, drums, and pan-pipes to ring in the new year in a bustling, vibrant atmosphere.
Ma Thi Xuan in the north-western province of Hoa Binh says her father and younger brother perform the gongs very well. They have already been invited by the organising board to play at the festival’s opening ceremony on the first day of Tet.
"Villagers call my father a skilled gong artist when he performs the instrument, which makes everyone excited," says Xuan.
Along with the gong festival, the Muong celebrate other events throughout the year such as khuong mua or hoi xuong dong (going to the fields), hoi cau mua ( praying for rain), le rua la lua (washing rice leaves) and le com moi (new rice ritual).
Dances of the Dao
The Dao ethnic group welcome the new year with their special nhiong cham dao or Tet nhay (dancing ceremony), says 78-year-old Dao elder Hoang Tung Phin.
The event kicks off just a few days before Tet to hone the villagers’ fitness and martial arts skills with wooden sword dances.
Children also get the chance to hear folk stories such as Qua Bau (the Gourd), Con Cao Biet Hat ( The Fox that Sings) or Su Tich Mat Troi, Mat Trang (The Tale of the Sun and the Moon) from elderly villagers, says Phin.
The E De and the M’ Nong people of the Central Highlands continue to prove that animals can do more than just work the fields— they are also a source of entertainment, according to Ho Vinh, an elder of Don Village.
The Tay Nguyen tradition of elephant racing, which occurs in the third month of the year in Don Village, Dac Lac Province, is one of the most important events on the regional calendar.
Hundreds of big, strong elephants take their marks in the paddy fields that temporarily serve as racecourses.
After the gongs and horns sound, the elephants begin their race. As they near the finish line, the audience cannot help but be moved by the roar of the jungle giants.
This is the toughest test for the elephant jockeys, as their animals try to run as fast as they can and can accidentally knock over fence poles, causing them to be disqualified, says Vinh.
The heroes of the championship, man and beast, are feted with bananas, sugarcane, sugar, tea, and cigarettes.
This mammoth event is a tradition that the highlanders are rightly proud of.
Although they speak in different tongues, many ethnic groups live close together and pick up each others’ languages enough to communicate.
They are still able to retain their unique cultural identities and this diversity contributes to the development of the nation, says Vinh.
Source: Ha Nguyen - VNN