HUNG NGUYEN MANH1
The Festival entitled: “The God of Agriculture coming down to the fields”
The wet rice civilization has brought to the Vietnamese the fragrant grains of sticky rice, used for making square glutinous cakes and glutinous rice dumplings, while farming has brought to this nation its love for the ricefields, the buffalo, and the plough. From this fact, originate many rice customs relating to the Tết holidays and festivals in the Northern Midland, region which is closely related to farming.
At Hải Hưng, certain areas celebrate a ceremony in the first lunar month to welcome the God of Agriculture who comes down to the fields8. The role of the God of Agriculture is entrusted to a healthy old man living in the area; he wears a tunic of ceremony and velvet heelless shoes, and is sheltered under an umbrella. Upon hearing the bustling sounds of the drums, the God of Agriculture “turned up his trouzers, took off his velvet heelless shoes” and went down to the ricefield to plant out seedings on a furrow. After that, the villagers threw water on the God of Agriculture, and the more the God got wet, the more the villagers were happy as they dreamed of a new year with enough water for the ricefields and many good crops.8
The “Craft presenting” Festival
On the fourth Tết day, the Sài Đồng village (Gia Lâm – Hà Nội) and the Bích Đại village (Vĩnh Phú) used to organize a “craft presenting” festival. When the drums resound on the courtyard of the communal house, an old farmer conducts a buffalo out to the field (at certain places, it’s question of an authentic buffalo at other places the buffalo is plaited with straws) along with a young man to start ploughing the land.
Next comes a young girl sowing rice seeds amid the cheers of the villagers, cherishing the hope that farming will bring about good crops and they’ll have plenty of maize, potatoe, and paddy. Toward the end of the festival, the young farm labourer takes off the tunic and reveals himself to be actually a lovely young girl, while the sowing girl, upon taking off her tunic, turns out to be a young boy; the scenario of a boy disguising himself as a girl and a girl as a boy causes the atmosphere of the festival to be more unexpected and interesting.
Ceremony Inaugurating the Farming Season
The ceremony to inaugurate the farming season takes place after the villagers celebrate the ceremony to lower the Tết pole, at that very moment the chief officiant takes off his of ceremonial, dress puts on a brown tunic, wears a turban knotted with both ends turned up, and a red belt at his waist. Then, he conducts a fat buffalo, very well trained in ploughing, to a predetermined ricefield– not too far away from the worshipping place.
Arriving at the ricefield, he uses his hand to rub on the buffalo’s back and buttocks, then encircles its neck, while looking at it dearly. He gives to the buffalo a few glutinous rice cakes, and after it has finished eating, he steadily places the yoke on its neck and leisurely conducts the buffalo that’ll plough a few straight lines in a direction fixed in advance. While the buffalo is working, the drums and gongs resound, accompanied by the eight instruments orchestra and the villagers’ shoutings, causing the scene to look like an open air stage.
The above-mentioned image still exists in certain areas – At some places – such as at Thanh Hoá – the Ceremony Inaugurating the Farming Season is combined with the Ceremony to worship the God of Agriculture and is celebrated on the day inaugurating the holiday season, aimed at wishing the crops to be good ones and, at the same time, at showing people’s gratitude toward the king who’s taught people to transplant, plough the land, and produce paddies and sweet potatoes. Besides, the Ceremony Inaugurate the Farming Season9 also reminds people, living thanks to paddies, that they must value farming and take good care of buffalo and oxen that are faithful good friends for them.
Mountain Inaugurating Ceremony
This ceremony is very common in the semi-mountainous midland region and in the mountainous areas-especially with regard to people working as woodmen.
At Nghệ An – the “forest closing day” is the 25th of the 12th lunar month. In these closing days, nobody is allowed to cut the trees and have to wait until the new year comes when the forest is again opened by an “opening ceremony” to continue to work. That opening ceremony is called the “Mountain inaugurating ceremony”.
This ceremony is not necessarily organized by the village authorities (it is known that Vietnamese villages consist mostly of wet rice inhabitants in the deltaic areas) but it can be celebrated by a clan or a group of woodmen.
In the period of time from the 4th to the 6th of Tết days, people bring offerings to the temple of the “mountain genie” at the forest gate or at a grotto or at the base of any big old tree, then they burn joss sticks to worship and pray to that genie “to leave the forest in peace so that the woodmen’s work can be carried out without a hitch”. The offerings besides the ordinary items must have in addition some raw meat as this is the dish that cannot be forgotten in the meal of the “Genie of the forest”.
After the worshipping ceremony, the woodmen go into the forest with axes and cleavers and cut a few trees for “form’s sake” to observe this “khai sơn” ceremony. Starting from that moment, everybody is allowed to carry out their woodmen’s work which is forbidden during the time the “forest is closed” i.e. the time the Genie of the Mountain enjoys his Tết.The Phú Lộc village (Phong Châu district) observes a strange ceremony called “ceremony to worship bow and arrows” in the night of the 6th day of Tết. On that night, all young men and young girls in the village bring their bows and arrows to a temple located at the “Trám” (canari) forest to celebrate the “bow and arrows worshipping ceremony”.
After the joss sticks are burned out and after the master of ceremonies has prayed to the genie, a strong young man receives a bow and an arrow from the altar to shoot at a pair of rooster and hen trussed and placed near the temple. The blood of the rooster and that of the hen shall mix to become an offering to the genie. Next comes a dance called the hunting dance between couples of young men and young girls, the girls being the preys and the young men the “hunters”. They perform their dance not only with gestures but also with a soft hallooing (young men first, then comes the turn of young girls). Then, couple by couple, they look for a place to realize the obligatory requirement of the ceremony consisting of an act called “a rooster covering a hen”.6
Let’s try to learn concretely about the ceremony to open a temple’s door on the hills at the Phú Lộc village (Vĩnh Phú)10 on the sixth Tết day.
Each year, on that day, the TEMPLE GUARDIAN (in charge of the temple) brings along a cock and a hen and goes with the chief officiant to the forbidden hills to open the doors of the Thượng (upper) temple (worshipping the Genius of mount Tản Viên and his subordinate the Tiger genius). They are accompanied by a number of young men and young girls in the village – the number of young men must be equal to that of the young girls, and they all must be unmarried people. The young men wear loin-clothes, are bare-chested, and have on their heads turbans knotted with both ends turned up: each one of them carries with him a bow and three arrows.
The young girls wear shorts and bust bodices but no tunics. At the places on which the ceremony is celebrated, the bows and arrows are placed neatly on the altar, filled with smoke and incense. Meanwhile, the Temple Guardian and the Chief Officiant secretly worship in the inner part of the temple, then they place the pair of tied up fowls before the temple. After that, the young villagers come inside, in turn, to invoke the geniuses in this bows and arrows worshipping ceremony. Then, they recover these bows and arrows that’ve been provided with geniuses’ spells, permitting them to hit their objectives whenever they are shot. But, right now, these arrows are used to shoot at the pair of fowls to make them bleed. The amount of blood is collected on an antique plate and offered to the geniuses, starting a hunting dance. This is a dance modeled after the hunting, of wild beasts of our ancestors in prehistoric times.
… continue in section 2 …
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.
8 According to BÙI LIÊN NAM – The Tết (New Year’s Day) and farming – Law review – Spring Đinh Sửu (year of the buffalo) 1997 – P.28.
9 According to BÙI LIÊN NAM – Ceremony Inaugurating the Farming Season – Investment review – Đinh Sửu (Year of the buffalo) Spring 1997 – P.24.
10 According to NGỌC ÁNH – Tết magazine – Đinh Sửu (year of the buffalo) spring – p. 16.
BAN TU THU
◊ Source: Vietnamese Lunar New Year – Major Festival – Asso. Prof. HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
◊ Bold text and sepia images has been set by Ban Tu Thu thanhdiavietnamhoc.com
◊ 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
◊ In SOUTHERN PART of the COUNTRY: a HOST of PARALLEL CONCERNS
◊ 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 1
◊ Various Wet Rice Farmer’s Holidays and Festivals – Section 2
◊ Vietnam Lunar New Year – vi-VersiGoo.