Hà Giang's spiritual ceremonies get national recognition

April 17, 2022 - 09:59

The cultural and spiritual life of ethnic minorities in the northernmost mountain province of Hà Giang's Hoàng Su Phì District has risen to new heights since two traditional ceremonies were included in the list of national intangible cultural heritage.


Located in the west of the northernmost mountain province of Hà Giang, Hoàng Su Phì is famous among tourists for its charming landscapes. Photo didulich.net

The cultural and spiritual life of ethnic minorities in the northernmost mountain province of Hà Giang's Hoàng Su Phì District has risen to new heights since two traditional ceremonies were included in the list of national intangible cultural heritage.

They are the post-harvest festival of the Red Cờ Lao ethnic group and the Bàn Vương worship ceremony of the Red Dao in Túng Sán and Hồ Thầu communes, respectively.

Located in west Hà Giang, Hoàng Su Phì is famous not only for its charming landscapes but also for its 13 ethnic groups, including the Dao, Tày, Nùng, Mông, Cờ Lao, and La Chí.

The district is also one of the localities suffering special difficulties due to harsh natural conditions.

Fortunately, harsh living conditions and geographical factors have not hindered the people from retaining many unique aspects of their longstanding traditional culture.

With maize and rice their major crops, the Cờ Lao honour agriculture, and every year organise a post-harvest festival, which is central to their beliefs.

Families prepare boiled chicken and pork, sticky rice, white wine, fruit, gold coins and incense as offerings for the ceremony.

A shaman is invited to carry out basic rituals to thank the gods, heaven, earth and ancestors for bountiful crops.

Thèn Ngọc Minh, chairman of the Hoàng Su Phì People's Committee, said the post-harvest festival reflected the typical agricultural beliefs of the Cờ Lao.

"Every year, after harvesting rice and corn, the Cờ Lao people hold the ceremony to express gratitude to the gods and ancestors for blessing them with good weather and bountiful crops," he said.

They also pray for a new bumper harvest for the next crop with favourable weather conditions, happiness, and prosperity.

Apart from such rituals, the ceremony also features festivities such as folk singing and games.

Local Cờ Lao ethnic men worship at the post-harvest ceremony in Hoàng Su Phì District. — Photo baohagiang.vn

The Cờ Lao, one of Việt Nam's 54 ethnic groups, has a population of about 3,000. The group settled in the country about 200 years ago and live mainly in the northern mountainous region. They have other branches such as the Green Cờ Lao, Red Cờ Lao, and White Cờ Lao in Hoàng Su Phì and Đồng Văn districts in Hà Giang.

Growing rice on terraced fields and maize, buckwheat, green peas, and roots is the main farming work of the Cờ Lao. 

Nguyễn Hữu Sơn, vice chairman of the Việt Nam Folklore Association, said: "Life for the Cờ Lao has improved a lot. In the past, they wove fabric and used natural dyes. Now they buy cloth to make their clothes, but their costumes maintain the original decoration and design."

A Cờ Lao village has 15 to 20 households of the same clan. They make earthen-wall houses with alang grass roofs. The Cờ Lao worship ancestors going back three or four generations. 

Farming on rocky, sloping fields is extremely hard. So men are the pride of the family.

Lưu Sẩm Vạn, a researcher of ethnic culture, said: "The coming of age ceremony of the Cờ Lao recognises an adult man's new role in the family and community. He can now lead his family and join community activities."

Meanwhile, the Bàn Vương worship ceremony is how the Red Dao in Hồ Thầu Commune express their gratitude toward Bàn Vương, the legendary ancestor of the 12 Dao clans.

"The Bàn Vương worship ceremony shows the Red Dao people's respect for their ancestors and the aspiration for a peaceful life, good weather and bumper crops," Minh said.

The worship of Bàn Vương is related to the destiny of each person, each clan, and the entire ethnic group.

Taking place between the 15th day of the 10th lunar month and the 30th day of the last lunar month, the event is also a ceremony to pray for communal prosperity.

Three shamans usually conduct the ceremony: the first one, the chief shaman, worships the return of two "divine pigs" to Bàn Vương and the ancestors.

The second shaman prays to the gods for health, good rice crops and livestock. 

The third brings offerings to the gods and ancestors.

A shaman performs the Bàn Vương worship ritual. — VNA/VNS Photo Diễm Quỳnh

On an auspicious day at the selected hour, the three shamans invite the family to set up an altar for Bàn Vương worship. First, they hang two sets of Tam Thanh paintings next to the ancestral altar. Only those who work as shamans have such painting sets.

They perform cleansing works by sprinkling "magical water" all over the house and sticking magic papers with words written in the Nôm ideographic script around the house, then invite Bàn Vương, the ancestors and gods to attend the ceremony.

On the altar display offerings include a slaughtered pig (called the god-pig), a rooster, a traditional sticky rice cake, a bag of rice wrapped in white cloth, offering paper and seven other objects for the shamans to perform the worship.

Previously, the worship ceremony usually took place over three days and three nights. Today, it is shortened but still retains its sacredness. 

Hà Giang now has 27 items of national intangible cultural heritage. Their numerous customs, traditions, cultures and lively festivals have helped the province become an attractive destination for tourists. VNS