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Culture Vulture (20-01-2015)

Update: January, 20/2016 - 08:50

Hanoians had a chance to experience the traditional new year celebration of the ethnic Mong people on Sunday.

The festival, "Mong ethnic people's new year in Ha Noi", was organised by the "Action for Mong Development" group with support from Plan International Viet Nam and The Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE).

Vang A Cu, member of Action for Mong Development group and the head of the organising committee of the event talks with Bach Lien about the event and customs of Mong people's new year.

How did the idea come to you and your group to organise this festival in the capital?

We really wished to make our culture better known to the public. As I can see, many people in Ha Noi do not know much about Mong culture and our way to celebrate the new year.

The festival has several traditional games of Mong ethnic group during the new year celebrations and it attracted a big number of visitors and participants. It was more successful than we expected.

Could you briefly explain how you and other Mong people celebrate the new year?

Mong people from different regions celebrate the new year at different moments. They celebrate new year early or late December, a month earlier than the Kinh people's Lunar New Year.

As we believe that it's not good to spend money on the first day of the new year, we often buy things we need before this day. To prepare for the new year, we also clean the house, decorate the altar, and make banh day (round rice cakes). For us, the moment marking the beginning of the new year is when we hear the first crow of the first day of new year. In some areas, people come to find water in early morning of this first day.

On this day, we do not eat vegetables but meat.

Normally we celebrate the new year from five to 10 days. We spent most of the time during those days playing nem pao (throwing pao ball) because it's a good occasion for young people to know each other better and after get married. It's also one reason explaining why Mong people often organise weddings during new year.

Some rituals are held on new year to show gratitude to ancestors.

As modern life has changed the lifestyles of many ethnic groups, did the Mong traditions of new year celebrations change over the years?

Societal development has made traditions change. However, I can say that only a minority of Mong people lost their traditions.

Most Mong people still preserve the most traditional things of their spiritual culture.

Mong people in the past and today still play the traditional game nem pao, sing a duet to find their life partners, and wear colourful costumes during the new year celebrations. The only change is that the time for going out and celebrating the new year has been shortened. Previously they spent a month, now it's only a few days. They also stopped believing in some taboos.

Those changes can be explained by the cultural influences from other ethnic groups. Mong people began to understand which traditions should be kept and which customs deleted. I see that it's a self-elimination of some inconvenient rituals.

As a young man, have you thought about finding ways to preserve the traditional culture of Mong people?

All young Mong people like me want to preserve their traditional culture. For me, I love researching the history and culture of ethnic groups. And I think, at first, I should spend time making deep research of my culture and understanding this culture, and then after, think of preserving it. — VNS

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