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Most of the ethnic groups living in the valley of Mai Chau are Thai, H’mong, Dzao and Tay and each celebrate their own unique festivals. Here is an overview of some important festivals and customs.
The Hoa Ban Festival, also known as Xen Ban or Xen Muong Festival
Each spring when the mountain-ebony flowers bloom, Mai Chau’s Thai villages brighten with a festival to pray for abundant crops and prosperity. This creates opportunities for talent competitions where boys and girls get to know each other and express their feelings through music. On the first day there is the opening ceremony, and the next two days feature bow and gun shooting competitions and games such as Keng Loong, drumming, spinning top, “ném còn (throwing of a ball made of bits of rags sewn together),” “tò lẻ” game, and a repartee singing competition. The village bustles with activity and the sound of drumming fills the air. Kitchens in stilt houses are filled with sticky rice dishes, boiled chicken, bamboo shoots, and wine for treating guests. The streets are alive with excitement and young girls in their traditional scarves and skirts contribute the the vibrant village atmosphere.
The Tay’s Going to the Field Festival
This Tay festival prays for good weather, good harvests, and prosperity from January 5-15th (lunar month). All villagers are involved in the ceremony and each family prepares offerings of boiled chicken, rice cakes, pork, boiled eggs, red and yellow sticky rice as they pray for good weather and a fruitful harvest. Activities during the festival include the lion dance, walking on stilts, shuttlecock, “xòe” dance, and the young men and women’s repartee singing which goes on throughout the night.
The Muong’s Gong Festival, also Known as “Xéc Bùa”
The gong festival embraces the optimistic sound of life and is held each spring. As the gong sound echoes in the village, everyone wishes each other good fortune, peace and prosperity. At Tet, those who know how to sing and strike the gong greet other families, and recite poetry praising the household owner. The owner of the house makes an offering and to reciprocate, joins in the singing. This tradition is performed from house to house.
The Muong Voi’s Swinging Festival
In the past, the Muong’s swinging festival was held biennially, on the 8th of January, lunar month (the 7th is the first summer day in the Muong calendar). This festival is more than 100 years old but there was a period when it was interrupted. Now it is restored and is held annually. This festival has a special meaning. The people believe that if the swinging column falls towards the village then that year the whole village will prosper. The festival is an opportunity for everyone to reunite and commemorate their ancestors.
Dzao Festivals and Customs
The naming ceremony is a ritual that has important meaning for Dzao people. It is a ceremony that celebrates the coming of age for boys who are 13 to 15 years old. After the naming ceremony, the men in the family are recognized as descendants of the clan and recorded into the list of clan genealogy. The Dzao’s New Year dance festival also honors ancestors.
The forest deity festival, held on the 3rd or 4th day of Tet reflects the desire for a prosperous life and abundant harvest for the whole year.
Mai Chau Dzao people live in mud houses with two or three rooms. Before marriage, a son-in-law must live with his wife’s family for 10 to 15 days to test the suitability of the pair. If the girl’s family accepts him, they are allowed to marry and the wedding ceremony is first held at the bride’s house. The Dzao have a rich culture and their songs, dances and language are very distinctive.
The Thai “Chá Chiên” Festival
For villagers, the witch doctor (also called Humus or Muong) has extensive knowledge and the power to heal and expel evil spirits. Every three years, the villagers hold this festival to invite troops from heaven to earth to dine. This shows their appreciation for giving the power to a witch doctor who protects the village from disease and demons.
This festival is usually held in the spring when the seedlings are green and the flowers are blooming. The stilt house floor of the witch doctor is colorfully decorated with amazing brocade panels. A flowering tree called “chá” is put in the middle of the house. At the centre of the flower tree is a tall bamboo pole and at the top is the “bua giùa” flower. This everlasting flower symbolizes the sacred and eternal power of the Humus Luang (the demon-occupied witch doctor).
The Thai Pray for Rain Festival (Xến Xó Phốn)
Thai in the northwest believe that gods control the wind and rain because they show sympathy towards children born without a father to build a house, thus making droughts. They infer that pregnant women who do not know their child’s father cause drought. The villagers perform the rain ceremony to pray to the God of Water (Naga, Thai call it “Tô Ngược”) to invite gods to hear the aspirations of the people, and to reprove the women who cannot keep themselves. Those pleas are passed on through generations and are reflected in worship songs and games played during the festival.