Rice in Vietnamese culture: Rice festivals

RICE IN VIETNAMESE CULTURE:

RICE FESTIVALS

Nguyễn Văn Ngưu

Traditional festivals constitute a form of cultural activities that people have created and developed during the history. Festivals are events when people pay tribute to divinities that rendered merits to the community and the nation. Festivals are occasions when people come back to either their natural or national roots, which form a sacred part in their mind. In 2009, nearly 8000 festivals, which includes rice related festivals, were carried out by the 90.5 million Vietnamese people, of which 73,594,427 people are the Kinh people, the principal ethnic, and the rest are from 53 ethnic minorities.

Rice is the staple food crop of Vietnamese and rice production has been the major economic activity during the history of Vietnam. Rice festivals have promoted the Vietnamese culture for thousand years. Vietnamese treasures their culture and tradition and they express it in the following proverb.

Uống nước phải nhớ nguồn

or

Drinking water, please remember its source

Information on rice-related festivals of different ethnic groups in Vietnam is available in books, magazines and internet in both English and Vietnamese. The following pages present only some of the rice-related festivals in three major groups namely (a) festivals to pray for good weather and bumper rice crop, (b) the festivals to pray for rain, and (c) the festivals to celebrate the newly harvested rice.

I. FESTIVALS TO PRAY FOR BUMPER RICE HARVEST

Rice production has been the main economic activity of majority of Vietnamese. Consequently, Vietnamese have carried out special festivals, mostly at the beginning every year, to pray for bumper rice harvest. Table 1 shows some festivals that Vietnamese have carried out to pray for good rice yield or bumper harvests. Following four festivals to pray for good rice yield or bumper harvests are special.

I.1 The Spring Ploughing (or Tịch Điền) Festival of Kinh People:

The Spring Ploughing Festival of Kinh people was classified as an intangible heritage at national level (or Di sản văn hóa phi vật thể cấp quốc gia). The First Ploughing Festival was held in Spring of 987 by King Lê Đại Hành in the capital Hoa Lư of the country at that time, which is in today Hà Nam Province. The king, himself acted as master of the ceremony and went down to the field to plough a piece of field about three furrows to pray for good weather and a bumper harvest. After the king, all mandarins followed him to the field. Each of them ploughed five, seven or nine furrows depending on their grades.

The Ploughing Festival was held throughout the Ly (1009-1225). In 1484, King Le Thanh Tong built a Dan Tien Nong in Hoang Mai village on the outskirts of Thang Long capital, where the king went every spring to pray and ploughed the field. The Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) considered the Ploughing Festival one of the three most important ceremonies of the dynasty. King Minh Mang held the Ploughing Festival in a stately manner. The special compound for the Ploughing Festival was built within the imperial city of Hue in front of Phu Xuan village’s communal house (which now belongs to Tay Loc ward) on an area of about 6 ha. Today the special compound for the Ploughing Festival in Hue is no longer exists (Toan Anh, 1997).

The Ploughing Festival disappeared in the late period of the Nguyen Dynasty and has been restored since in 2007. In 2015 it was held on 22 February 2015 and in 2019 it was held 10 February 2019 in Ha Nam Province.

I.2 The Long Tong Festival of Tay People Tuyen Quang Province:

The festival, celebrated annually by Tay ethnic minority people in the province on the eighth day of the new lunar year, is a religious ritual dedicated to the God of agriculture to win his blessing for verdant crops and prosperity for villagers throughout the year. It consists of an offering ritual, a ploughing ceremony and folk games. When the offerings are ready, a shaman deferentially recites prayers in Tay dialect, inviting gods and goddesses to the rite and asking for their blessing for the village to have bumper crops and growing herds of cattle and be freed from diseases and misfortune. The offering ritual is followed by the tich dien (ploughing ceremony) in which the festival host leads a carefully selected male buffalo to make the first furrows of the year. In Tay belief, villagers will get good luck and yield bumper crops throughout the year if this buffalo makes straight furrows.

Then comes the most exciting part of the festival, folk games, central to which is nem con (throwing con through the ring on the top of the con pole). Other games in the festival include tug of war, blind man’s bluff and yen playing. Long Tong is the most typical festival of the Tay, a big ethnic minority group living in the northern mountain region with a population of over 1.6 million. The festival was named national intangible cultural heritage in 2013.

I.3 The Rice Leaves Washing Festival of Muong People:

Rice leaves washing festival is held in July or August (lunar calendar) in Muong Bi Commune, Tan Lac District, Hoa Binh Province when rice crops were flowering. The families weave bamboo baskets with 6 chicken feathers at the top of their fields and make many high sticks with fake chicken feathers. Many families also ask their children to plug feathers around the edge of the fields. Feast trays include many bowls of chicken rice soup located at the top of the fields to the sorcerer to read praying for a good crop with fewer insects. The festival was carried out to remember the people who reclaimed wasteland and set up Muong Hamlet. The praying tells the prehistoric days when there was no rice to eat and to pray for fewer insects and an abundant crop.

I.4 The Hamlet Worshipping Ceremony of Cong People:

Cong people in Muong Te district in the northern province of Lai Chau has practiced the hamlet worshiping ceremony annually in April before a new crop to pray to the water and forest genies for a bumper harvest and to protect the villagers from downing or traffic accidents. The worshiping ceremony is carried out in a sacred place where there is a source of water. To prepare for the rite, young men in the hamlet will cut trees and clean the grounds and then they use bamboos to build a house-on-stilts where offerings are placed for the genies. The sorcerer starts the rite by pouring wine into small cups and reading the prayers. Then, with help from the young men, the sorcerer performs some other rites, such as killing chickens and a pig to sacrifice to the genies. The meat is then cooked with rice and water in a large pot. When the food is well-done, it is placed on a tray for the sorcerer to perform the second ceremony. The chicken feathers will be plugged into the foot of the new house to eliminate evil. The most important part of the ceremony is when the sorcerer looks at the tendons on the liver of the pig and tells the villagers about the results of the ceremony. When the ceremony ends, the villagers enjoy the food and the sorcerer will knit a curtain and put the leaves and chicken feathers on it to give the signal that it is forbidden to leave or enter the hamlet for a few days.

Table 1 Some festivals to pray for bumper rice harvested of different ethnic groups of Vietnamese people

Ethnic group

Festival

Time and place

Kinh People

Tịch Điền or Spring Ploughing Festival

on the seventh day of the Lunar January

Yen Festival

From 10th to the 12th day of the second lunar month in Bac Ninh City, Bac Ninh Province.

Ta Va Pagoda Festival

12th day to the 15th day of the fourth lunar month in Chi Lang Commune, Lang Son Province,

Hoa Sơn Festival

on the 6th day of the first lunar month in Hoa Sơn Commune, Hanoi

Tống Trùng Festival

on second lunar month in Tien Dien Commune, Ha Tinh Province

Agriculture Genie Procession Festival

on the 1st day of the third lunar month in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province

Phu Le Communal House Festival

on 9th to 10th day of the eleventh lunar month in Phu Khuong Hamlet, Ben Tre Province

Long Phu Communal House Festival

on the 7th of the first lunar month in Long Phu Commune, An Giang Province

Mường people

Going Down to the Field or Khuống Mùa Festival

7 to 19 of the first month of lunar calendar in Mường Động (Kim Bôi), Hoa Binh Province

Tày people

Going Down to the Field or Long Tồng Festival

after the Lunar New Year Festival in Sapa, Lao Cai province and 4th to the 10th January Lunar calendar in Ha Giang province

Tày People

The Long Tong (or going to the field) Festival**

on the eighth day of January Lunar calendar in Chiem Hoa, Tuyen Quang Province

Giáy people


Going Down to the Field or Roóng Poọc Festival

in the first lunar month in Ta Van village, Sapa, Lao Cai province

Nùng people

Going Down to the Field or Bủng Kham Festival

12 January of Lunar calendar In Long Sơn, Đắk Nông province

Mường people

Rice Leaves Washing Festival

in July or August of lunar calendar in Muong Bi Commune, Tan Lac District, Hoa Binh Province

Cong people

Hamlet worshiping ceremony

in April in Muong Te district, Lai Chau province

II. FESTIVAL TO PRAY FOR RAIN

Rice crops require adequate water supply for good growth and production. Before irrigation is available, rice farmers depended on rains as source of water supply for rice crops. During the time when there is no rain or drought Vietnamese rice farmers carried out festivals to Pray for Rain. Table 2 shows some festivals that Vietnamese have carried out to pray for rain for rice growth and production. Following Praying for Rain festival is special.

II.1 Praying for Rain Festival of Lo Lo People:

The festival is often held on the 15th, 17th, 19th of the 3rd lunar month. It is common religious in agriculture of Lo Lo people in Ha Giang. On the festival occasions, almost all activities of the Lo Lo are aimed at praying for rain and they wish the rain down to the Meo Vac field and they pray for a prosperous forever. This event is also a venue for people to meet and discuss business and for young people to date. The rain praying ritual is held in the field and all the villagers attend. They wear their traditional costumes. After the worship ceremony, the villagers drink a toast, eat, dance, and sing folk tunes in praise of nature and their group’s history.


Table 2 Some festivals to pray for rains of different ethnic groups of Vietnamese people

Ethnic group

Festival

Time and place

Muong people

Praying for Rain Festival

in the fourth lunar month at Tech Lim Ground in My Hoa Commune, Tan Lac District, Hoa Binh Province

Kho Mu people

Praying for Rain Festival

on the fifteenth day of the fourth lunar month in Dien Bien province

Lo Lo people

Praying for Rain Festival

in third lunar month in Meo Vac, Ha Giang Province

La Hu people

Khu te cha or Pray for Rain Festival

In sixth lunar month in Muong Te district, Lai Chau province

Cham people

Cau Dao or Pray for Rain Festival

on the 18th day of the fifth lunar month at Poklong Garai and Po Rome Towers in Ninh Thuan Province

Dao people

Bung Lổ or Pray for Rain Festival

from 5 to 15 of fifth lunar month in Đông An Commune, Văn Yên District, Yên Bái Province

Lô Lô people

Praying for Rain Festival

in the 3rd lunar month in Meo Vac district, Ha Giang province

Thái people

Praying for Rain Festival

on 15 of second lunar month in Mộc Châu, Sơn La

III. FESTIVALS TO WELCOME THE NEW RICE (OR COM MOI)

Rice is the staple food of Vietnamese. Therefore, after the newly harvested rice was safely in storage barn, Vietnamese performed Tết Cơm Mới or New Rice Festival to thank Gods in the Heaven, ancestors, and spirits for a successful crop and peaceful life. Table 3 shows New Rice Festivals that have been carried out by different Vietnamese ethnic groups in different places in Vietnam. As expected, there are more New Rice Festivals than the rice related festivals in other two groups namely praying for good crop/bumper harvest and praying for rain. The following festivals for New Rice have some special characteristics.

III.1 New Rice (or Thượng Điền) Festival of Kinh People:

During the Nguyen Dynasty, the Lễ Thượng Điền was celebrated after the harvest of the main rice crop in November or the 10th month of lunar calendar in both the capital and in all provinces. The festival in the capital was presided by the Governor of Thừa Thiên, while in provinces, districts and villages, it was presided by the head of local units concerned. During the festival, traditional procession, cultural exhibition, dance, and signing contest were performed, while special foods were prepared for consumption with rice wine. (Toan Anh, 1997).

In 2017, in Binh Thuy Ward, Binh Thuy District, Can Tho City after harvesting their rice crops, farmers celebrate the Thuong Dien Festival from the 12th to the 14th day of the fourth lunar month to worship the God of Land. The festival activities include ceremony to the God of Land, praying for peace, sacrifice ceremony, procession of god on dragon and phoenix-decorated palanquin, welcoming royal ordinance on three decorated boats, boi singing in three nights.

III.2 The Ooc-Om-Bok Festival of Khmer People:

The Khmer people in Soc Trang Province carried out the Ooc-Om-Bok Festival to worship the moon and thank for good weather and good harvest in the evening of the 14th day and the 15th day of the tenth lunar month when rice crops are ripening on the fields. The ceremony is held in the yards of the pagoda or of residents’ houses. People erect bamboo poles with a crossbar on which they decorate with flowers and leaves. Below is a table of offerings that include green rice flakes, potatoes, bananas, coconuts, grapefruits, oranges and cakes. People sit on the ground with crossed legs, clasping their hands before the altar and look up the Moon. An old master of ceremonies says his prayers, asks the moon deity to receive the offerings and bless people with the best. After the ceremony, the elders ask the children of the house sit flatly on the ground with crossed legs before the altar. The elders then take a handful of green rice, feed each child and ask them what they wish while clapping their backs. Anyone who visits the Khmer’s houses on this occasion will be tasted com dep (a kind of young sticky rice). At Khmer pagodas, people hold paper-lantern releasing into the sky and putting into the rivers. The custom of releasing flying lights and floating lights is believed to sweep away the darkness, impure and sadness from the village.

III. 3 New Rice Festival of Tay people:

The Tay in the northwestern mountain region celebrate the New Rice Festival on the 9th or 10th lunar month to thank genies for blessing them with a bumper crop. The Tay choose a good day about 3 weeks before the harvest to wrap up a production year, offer the results to genies and ancestors, and pray the supernatural power for blessing them with good health and favorable weather. The villagers cut the biggest rice panicles in the fields, put them in a bow of water, and place the rice bowl on the altar. They prepare many dishes from animal they raise and plants they grow. The New Rice Festival shows respects to the traditional knowledge, honors the fruit of people’s labor, and preserves traditions in temporary life.

III.4 New Rice Ceremony of Ma and Co Ho People:

The Ma and Co Ho people In B’Lao Ward, Bao Loc Town, celebrated the New Rice Ceremony in January of Lunar calendar to pray for good weather and to prevent wild animals from destroying their crops. The new rice ceremony is also their New Year or Tet. In each family, New Year celebration takes place between the house and the rice storage facility, which is built high above the ground and supported by poles or tree trunk to limits the damage by the rats and humidity from the soil. In the evening of the new year date, sitting around the pit for roasting a pig, which is built under the rice storage house or facility, the head of the family starts the celebration by taking a vase of rượu cần, takes a sip and then passes it to other members of the family. After the celebration under the rice storage house, the head of the family climbs to the rice storage house, knells down on top of the stored rice grains and prays to their ancestors and God. Other members of family would follow the head of the family, climbing up to the rice storage house, knells down on top of the stored rice grains and join him in drinking the rượu cần.

III.5 Rice Harvest Festival of Ka Tu or Co Tu People:

Ka Tu or Co Tu ethnic people in Quang Nam and Thua Thien provinces reserve the best place in their kitchen to hang a decorated basket in which they place a small box that contains good rice grains for seeds. The grains are changed yearly with new rice grains from the most resent harvest, which normally takes place in August. In this month, they also celebrate their New Rice Festival to pay homage to God or Giang and the spirits, which protect the villagers and bless them with a bumper harvest, clement weather and a peaceful life. On the festive days, the entire village is crowded and bustling. Old musicians ensure their instruments are in good working order while young people clean the houses, repair roads and decorate the communal house or Guol to welcome guests. During the festival, villagers hold a buffalo-stabbing ritual to worship Giang and the spirits. After buffalo-stabbing ritual is completed, the festive entertainment begins. The buffalo meat is divided into pieces, part of which is for the elderly to feast the guests at the Guol and the rest is for the villagers. Rice wine or tavak, steamed glutinous rice, pork, chicken and fruit are for all villagers to enjoy while chatting and exchanging news of production. During this festival, Ka Tu people also carry some cook rice to the forest and throw into different directions for the birds to share with them the fruits of the harvest.

http://image.rol.vn/Resources/2010/11/19_DOOL_101119_CD_L1_H9.jpg

A panoramic view of the “Welcome the New Rice” Festival

http://talkvietnam.com/2012/01/tet-celebrations-central-highlands/#.UQdFavIkKSo

III.6 New Rice Festival or Hua Esei Mrao of Ede People:

Ede people live in Dac Lac province celebrate their New Rice festival or Hua Esei Mrao in October to thank god and spirits for good harvest. When the rice fields turn yellow, every family goes out to their fields to pick rice grains from the stalks. Then, they carry the rice in woven baskets back to the village where it is left out to dry in preparation for the harvest festival. Each household, depending on their economic conditions, would slaughter an animal or animals, which are either pig, chicken or buffalo. Before the ceremony begins, the Ede arrange the offerings for worship which include one or two jars of rice wine or ruou can and plates of food in the centre of the house. The jars of ruou can are tied firmly to the pole of the house and the plates of rice are placed around them. The host or the sorcerer sits in front of these offerings, presses his palms together and pray. After the praying, members of family and guests enjoy the foods and ruou cần, play gongs and perform traditional dances.

http://english.vov.vn/Uploaded_VOV/vanbinh/20120125/Central-Highlands2.jpg

Drinking ruou can during the Hua Esei Mrao of Ede people


http://talkvietnam.com/2012/01/tet-celebrations-central-highlands/#.UQdFavIkKSo

III.7 LIR-BONG Festival or New Rice Ceremony of Co Ho or K’Ho People:

The K’Ho or Co-Ho people live in Lam Dong province celebrate the Lir Bong Festival at the beginning of March to thank their God or Giang for the bountiful rice harvests. Lir Bong literally means “secure the rice grains in the storage container” or “welcoming the newly harvested rice grains”. Prior to the harvest, K’Ho people fence off or close their village in order to defend from thieves. After the rice grains were securely stored, the village population gather at the house of the village chief to discuss and plan for the festival celebration. Then they repair the village roads and wells and plant the Nêu plant at the yard of the village house. In the evening of the selected day for the Lir Bong festival musicians play drums, bells and other instruments. People of the village gather at the village house and sit in circles around a large table that serves as the altar at the center of the courtyard, according to age and seniority. The whole village population follow the village chief in praying to their YANG. After praying, the village chief takes one of the animals, kills it and spreads its blood to the roof and door of the village house, the sacks of rice in the storage house, and the drums of rice wine. One by one, the villagers go back to their own houses where they carried out new rice festival. The celebration lasts days and nights for about one month. Visitors to the village during the LIR-BONG festival are believed to bring good luck to the next rice crops in the village and they are usually invited by one house to others.

III. 8 New Rice or Kin lẩu khẩu mẩu Festival of Thai People:

It was carried out on 9th lunar month when rice is ripening by Thai people in Ea Kuêh Commune, Cư M’gar District, Đắk Lắk Province. In Muong So commune, Phong Tho district of Lai Chau province, the Festival is held by Thai people on the full moon to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, a chance for the boys and girls to compete and learn about each other as well as for people’s relaxation. During the festival, an indispensable part is to choose rice to make green rice flakes. In addition, a lot of interesting folk games of Thai people will be held. This is also an opportunity to invite visitors to taste Thai dishes such as rock moss, grilled stream fish, sticky rice…

In Nghe An Province the New Rice Festival was organized by Thai people after the harvest of rice crop that takes place from September to November on the rice fields to give thanks and respect to super-natural spirits. They harvest the early ripen rice panicles then dry them over fire in kitchen. During the festival Thai people selected the best glutinous rice for offering to the spirit. Then organized meals right at the festival place on the rice field. Everyone should enjoy the food and drink to pray for a good crop next year. Then they dance and sing songs about their farming experiences.

Table 3 Some New Rice Festivals of different ethnic groups of Vietnamese people


Ethnic group

Festival

Time and place

Kinh people

New Rice or Thượng Điền Festival

after the harvest of the main rice crop in both the capital and in all provinces

Khmer People – Internet 6

Ooc-Om-Bok Festival

14th day and the 15th day of the tenth lunar month when rice crops are ripening on the fields in Soc Trang Province

Sedang (Xo Dang) people – Internet B

New Rice Festival

on the first day of the new year

Muong people – Internet C

Harvest Festival

on the tenth lunar month in Muong Bi Commune, Tan Lac District, Hoa Binh Province

Tay people – Internet D

New Rice Festival

on the 9th or 10th lunar month in northwestern mountain region

Ma and Co Ho minorities

New Rice Ceremony or their New Year or Tet

In January of Lunar Calendar in B’Lao Ward, Bao Loc Town

M’Nông people

New Rice Festival or Lễ Cơm mới or their Tet

from the end of the seventh to the beginning of the eighth lunar months in Binh Phuoc Province and other provinces in Central Highlands

Ka Tu or Co Tu People

Rice Harvest Festival

in August in Quang Nam and Thua Thien provinces

Paco People

Harvest or Ada Festival

in December in Hong Van commune, A Luoi district, Thua Thien-Hue province

Jrai People

Bul Rice (or New Rice) Festival

on January 31Chu Pah district, Gia Lai province

Raglai People

New rice ceremony

in the 3rd or 4th lunar month in Khanh Hoa province

Ede People

New Rice Festival or Hua Esei Mrao

in October in Dac Lac province

Ha Nhi people

Khu gia gia Festival

in June in Bat Xat District, Lao Cai province

La Hu people

New Rice Festival

in the 10th or the 11th month of a lunar year in Dien Bien

Co Ho or K’Ho people

LIR-BONG Festival or New Rice Ceremony

at the beginning of March in Lam Dong province

Thai People

New Rice or Kin lẩu khẩu mẩu Festival

on 9th lunar month in Ea Kuêh Commune, Cư M’gar District, Đắk Lắk Province; in September in Muong So commune, Lai Chau province; and from September to November in Nghe An Province

Muong People

Harvest Festival

in the tenth lunar month in Muong Bi Commune, Hoa Binh Province

La Hu people


New Rice Festival

10th or the 11th month of a lunar year in Dien Bien

IV REFERENCES

IV.1 FESTIVALS TO PRAY FOR BUMPER RICE HARVEST

IV.2 FESTIVALS TO PRAY FOR RAIN

IV.3 NEW RICE FESTIVALS