Before TOUCHING the EARTH – Section 1

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Mind the Genius of the Earth

    After sending off their ancestors, people regard Tết as gone. However, everybody continues to enjoy spring for he has to wait for a ceremony asking permission from the Genius of the Earth to begin working in the fields. According to the Westerners’ inquiry every work touching the earth or anything produced by the earth has to wait for this ceremony, e.g. digging, ploughing, harrowing, harvesting, rice-pounding, cutting trees, raking leaves as recorded by H. OGER.

    Any trespasser will be punished by the village. If unfortunately somebody dies in the three days of Tết, people have to wait until after this ceremony to dig his grave even pulling up grass and plucking off branches are taboo. This interdiction is observed by the Việt and the Mường.

    Westerners cannot understand why the Genius of the Earth cannot be disturbed in the first days of the year, why farming-work is interrupted at this time. They think that the conception appears in the myths of many nations: periodically the genius dies and comes to life again. However, for the Vietnamese and the Chinese the Genius of the Earth does not die but only leaves the earth.

    Both countries take the twenty-thirdday of the twelfth month as the day to send off the Genius of the kitchen at night. But he will return in the night of the thirtieth in Vietnam and on the fourth day of the first month in China.5

The Rite to begin Working the Fields

“Ground Breaking Ceremony” also called “Khai canh” “Starting the cultivation” or “Inaugurating the Farming season”

    As we’ve known, “Động thổ” means touching the ground i.e. breaking the ground. This Động thổ ceremony is also a ceremony to worship the genie of the earth (Thần đất or Thổ Thần) to ask him for the permission to touch the ground for ploughing, hoeing and planting in the new year after a relaxing period, both for men and the earth in the old year. Let’s stop to observe the developments and significance of this Ground Breaking Ceremony.

Clod of Earth

    At the ceremony to begin working the fields, village elders and officials preside over it, according to many Vietnamese books and news papers. The offerings comprise incense, betel, alcohol, paper clothes and votive paper money. Clad in blue mandarin’s robe, the master of ceremony makes some digging and takes a clod of earth to the altar to ask permission for the villagers to begin ploughing, harrowing and harvesting. A description of the ceremony is given by a Westerner with significant details.

    Before the moment the Ground Breaking Ceremony is held, he who automatically ploughs or hoes to start farming work shall be imposed a fine by the village authorities. The village’s customs might even be stricter when forbidding bereaved families if they unfortunately have members passing away during the 3 Tết days to dig the grave and when obliging them to wait until the village has held the Ground Breaking to start the funeral.

    The history of Vietnam has recorded the legend about King Huøng ploughing and under the Đinh Lê periods, king Lê Đại Hành celebrating the “Lễ Tịch Điền” (Field tilling by the King) Later, the other dynasties held the “Lễ Tịch Điền” at the beginning of Springtime along with the custom of “worshipping the Spring Buffalo with full rituals” (Tết Xuân Ngưu) each year at Tết.

    Generally speaking, the “Lễ động thổ” is held with various rituals depending on the place or the moment. At certain places, this ceremony is held on a ricefield next to the temple’s yard. The village’s first elderman-neatly dressed goes into the temple, lights the joss sticks, pray to the Genii, then goes down to the ricefield to take the plough and plough a symbolical straight line. Walking right beside him is a woman (a role played by a disguised man) carying rice seedlings and throwing one by one the bundles of seedlings then she also transplants a few symbolical seedlings. On the bank, the villagers shout loud cheers mixing their voices with the bustling drum beat filled with momentum. After that, the village’s first elderman steps up to the bank and shouts loudly: “The village has inaugurated the farming season, everybody is allowed to plough, pray God that we shall have good crops this year?”.

    At other places, the ceremony is held in the Spring festival and people plough with a “fake buffalo”. This is a buffalo as big as a real one plaited with straw, or weaved with bamboo laths, with its outside part wearing all types of blue and red paper pasted to it, while its inside part is occupied by a man who manipulates it. For that reason, the fake buffalo functions lithely and harmoniously just like a real one.

    The above-mentioned celebration which looks like a funny play attracts and causes a great gathering of the villagers, thus creating a lively atmosphere right on the first spring days in a region of wet rice inhabitants.6

Three Square cakes of Earth

    The ceremony takes place at Thọ Nham village, Phú Khê canton, Khoái Châu district, Hưng Yên province, in the morning of the second of February 1910. According to the calendar issued by the Huế Court, the ceremony is usually held within the first five days of the year, but in 1910 it fell on the first or the second.

    In the village communal house that morning the village council drank alcohol, chewed betel and chose the master of the ceremony (MC) according to custom he should be a man past sixty. His aide should be under 50. Then an altar was placed at the foot of a banyan. The offerings included many gold ingots in votive paper money, a tray of alcohol, two bunches of arecanut and a hat made of cardboard like an official’s hat.

    At nine o’clock the ceremony began. The master of ceremony clad in brown and his aide in black approached the altar and kowtowed three times. This is the inceremony. The MC identified himself and stated the aim of the ceremony, then left the altar for the southern direction, subsequently taking a scimitar he went to the eastern direction. He dug four times so as to take out a square cake of earth which his aide brought to the root of a big tree. After that the two men worked on to get three more cakes of earth. The first was laid beside the MC’s right foot, the second beside his left foot, the third between the other two.

    Then both men returned to the altar and kowtowed three times as before for the out-ceremony. After, everybody drank alcohol, chewed betel, while the votive paper money and the hat were burnt on the spot. During the ceremony two men were blowing horns and one beating a drum. All three men turned their faces to the east.

1 Associate Professor HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor in Phylosophy of History.
6 According to LÊ TRUNG VŨ – The traditional Tết of the Vietnamese – Culture and Information Publishing House 1996 – pp. 125 to 127.

01 /2020

◊  Source: Vietnamese Lunar New YearMajor FestivalAsso. Prof. HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
◊  Bold text and sepia images has been set by Ban Tu Thu –

◊  From Sketches in early 20th century to traditional rituals and festival.
◊  Signification of the term “Tết”
◊  Lunar New Year Festival
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for KITCHEN and CAKES
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for MARKETING – Section 1
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for MARKETING – Section 2
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for Dept payment
◊  The tray of Five fruits
◊  The Arrival of New Year
◊  SPRING SCROLLS – Section 1
◊  The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 1
◊  The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 2
◊  The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 3
◊  Waiting for the NEW YEAR – Section 1
◊  Paying the last honours to CÔ KÍ” (The clerk’s wife) on the second Day of TẾT
◊  Before BEGINNING to WORK – Section 1
◊  Going for TẾT Ceremonies – Section 1
◊  Going for TẾT Ceremonies – Section 2
◊  Before Touching the Earth – Section 2
◊  Vietnam Lunar New Year – vi-VersiGoo
◊  etc.

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