Thanh The Vinh

Experience the magic of the Then Kin Pang Festival in Lai Chau province

The Then Kin Pang Festival

A combination of traditional poetry, music, and dance, Then singing from the Thái ethnic group in Northwestern Vietnam carries the richness of their longstanding culture. Embedded in those beautiful melodies are not only spiritual beliefs but also profound messages about life and morality: messages that praise romantic love and patriotism while condemning wrongdoings, encourage virtue, and inspire good deeds.

According to legends of White Thái people in Lai Chau, the King of Heaven sent Then gods reincarnated as mortals to save lives on earth. They also serve as messengers between gods and villagers to offer prayers for a peaceful and prosperous year for their mường (village).

A White Thái girl

As the foothills bathe in the gold of bó mạ petals / The village men and women gather at the Then Festival” states a saying, referring to the fascinating festival of Then Kin Pang in Khong Lao Commune, Phong Tho District, Lai Chau. The White Thái community in Khong Lao believes that heaven is a village that houses the Then gods. So kind and generous, these divine beings come down to earth every year to help people, treating those who are sick and blessing those facing hardship. In return for their benevolence, villagers host the Then Kin Pang Festival annually on the tenth of the third lunar month to express their sincere gratitude.

The wetter you get, the luckier you will become

On the main day of the festival, the Then altar is covered in gorgeous bó mạ flowers – the central theme and symbol of the ritual. Colorful paper swallows are also displayed to send wishes to the gods. Offerings can come in all shapes and sizes to signal a year of joy and prosperity. The festival attracts wave after wave of visitors to join and burn incense sticks in the hope of a new year full of peace, good luck, and happiness.

At the beginning of the ritual, one individual chosen by the villagers will dress in Then costume and play a gourd lute, giving off the aura of a mighty general. Around him are maidens who represent the Chẩu constellation. These beautiful girls will sing and dance to entertain the gods during their visit to earth. Other observances include offering flowers, tributes, liquor, and singing performances from the Then master as a way to communicate with the gods with unfaltering faith.

The wetter you get, the luckier you will become

As the ritual ends, the Then master and the Chẩu stars will perform the “sweeping dead flowers” dance, a symbolic act of reincarnation according to the beliefs of the White Thai community. Yet the most exciting part only comes after these services: the rain praying ritual in the form of water-splashing. Thousands of people splash in Nam Lum Stream, reckoning that the wetter you get, the luckier you will become. The stream is considered the spot where Then gods land when they descend from heaven to help humanity. As such, participants feel a sense of  heaven and earth being in harmony as they pray for a bumper year ahead. The Then Festival is also an ideal destination for young couples to meet and exchange romantic songs. Many of these lovebirds get married after the event.

The Then Kin Pang Festival has such a significant impact over a vast area that it also draws people from other ethnic groups. It provides a unique opportunity to introduce the intriguing life and culture of Phong Tho, Lai Chau, to travelers from all over the country.