Story: Le Anh
Photos: Amachau

Ethnic Cham Hroi people in Van Canh continue to perform their traditional rain praying ceremonies

Ethnic Cham Hroi people in Van Canh, a highland district of Binh Dinh Province, have always lived close to nature. Until now, they believe that heaven, gods and evil spirits control human destiny and all movements of the universe. Mortals who wish to be blessed must pay their due respect and dedicate offerings to ask the god Giang and the deities for mercy. Cham Hroi people in Binh Dinh still practice many rituals such as sacrifices to the Titular God, the new rice ceremony, and the physical wealth homage. One of the most important events, held annually, is the rain praying ceremony.

The rain praying ceremony is an opportunity for villagers to pay homage to heaven for granting them favorable weather, rain and good harvests. In the Cham language, the rain praying ceremony is called “Quang Yang Playq achan”. It takes place in Lunar February, regardless of the weather. This ceremony may be hosted separately by each family, or organized jointly by villagers at their communal house.

The shaman and the chieftain practice the rituals

To prepare for a village ceremony, healthy young men erect a sacrificial scaffold from the roots of four Pay Ch’panh (Bombax) trees. This scaffold is ornately decorated by skillful craftsmen. Offerings placed on the scaffold include a pig’s head, a rooster, two jars of liquor, beeswax for burning, and a bowl of rice. At the auspicious time and date, villagers are chosen in odd numbers to join two shamans and a chieftain to practice the rituals.

Young women perform dances during the ceremony

The rituals begin when one shaman climbs onto the scaffold and another joins the chieftain before the altar to pray to the god Giang for good weather all year long. A key rite is the mercy granting rite, which involves two coins, tossed by the shaman and the chieftain following their prayers. Mercy granting coins have yin and yang faces. If both coins drop on the same face, it is understood that the god Giang and the deities don’t agree. The chieftain will continue to ask for mercy until the tossed coins show one yin face and one yang face. Afterwards, the shaman will strew rice around in a gesture of joy, and the chieftain and shaman will dedicate two glasses of ritual liquor to the god Giang and the deities. Several rituals are repeated to ask the Cloud God, Thunderbolt God, Lightning God and Wind God to testify to their honesty and shelter the villagers. At last, the shaman on the scaffold will cast liquor to the East, West, North and South so that the deities will pour rain as an act of mercy upon the villagers.

Gongs are played during the rituals

The rituals are followed by colorful festivities and thunderous gong and cymbal tunes. K’toang drummers and a cymbal choir play Heaven Greeting – Guest Reception melodies. Young men and women perform dances that simulate blowing breezes, roaming clouds and thunderbolts to embrace the raindrops granted by the god Giang. All of the villagers dance and dine all night long. The festivities usually end only after the donated liquor runs out.

The shaman

The rain praying ceremony is a popular rite in the Cham Hroi community, and a major communal event that demonstrates people’s wishes for an affluent and peaceful life.