Pham Thuy Dung
When fields are bare after the harvest, Lo Lo people choose a good day to hold their Village Purifying Ritual.
The Lo Lo comprise one of Vietnam’s smallest ethnic groups, concentrated in Ha Giang and Cao Bang provinces. Despite their small numbers, Lo Lo culture is rich and diverse compared to those of many larger ethnic groups. Normally, they live in settled villages, therefore their sense of community is strong. After a hard day’s work, Lo Lo people often gather to organize traditional rituals to show their respect for their origins and their desire for a prosperous life. One of their most interesting rituals is the Village Purifying Ritual.
This ritual, also known as the New Maize Season Celebration, stems from Lo Lo people’s belief that their dwelling places must be periodically cleansed and purified to rid them of dust, bad luck, and evil spirits. Typically, every three years, in May or June of the lunar calendar, villagers gather to decide on a day to hold the ritual, agree on which shamans to invite, and assign people to prepare the offerings. The day before the ritual, villagers finish preparing the offerings, which include incense sticks, cups of water, bamboo papers, and roosters. On the evening before the ritual, the shaman burns incense and puts a sheet of paper and a cup in a corner of his house. He prays to the ancestors for permission to hold the Village Purifying Ritual. Next, he wraps the paper over the cup. If the water in it isn’t absorbed or spilled, the ritual will succeed. Finally, to complete the permission ceremony, the shaman burns the bamboo paper.
The group performing the ritual includes a main shaman and a secondary one, accompanied by supporting male villagers. The group goes from house to house, to every corner of the village, beating gongs and drums loudly to wake up the good that is still asleep and drive away the bad. The sounds of gongs and drums are believed to scare away evil spirits. The men carry offerings consisting of two goats (their smell is thought to ward off evil spirits), a white rooster, corn wine, corn kernels, bundles of grass, wooden swords, iron swords, three hardy sugar cane stalks, three peach branches, three plum branches, a red cloth, a pair of buffalo horns, and a long piece of bamboo. The bamboo is chiseled in the middle, and filled with soil. Figures made of colored paper are glued onto sticks and stuck in the bamboo. The figures are shaped like beggars to represent evil spirits’ fear for humans. Four “legs” are stuck into the base of the bamboo to represent a horse.
During the tour of the village, two men lead the two goats. The others carry the bamboo “horse” and the offerings. The shamans pray to chase away the evil spirits, stomp around, and scatter corn in every corner. At each house they visit, the homeowner must prepare two paper “beggar” figures, two bundles of wood, and two bundles of grass to thank the shamans.
After the ceremony, everyone enjoys a feast and a party. They feel relieved and look forward to three peaceful years. Lo Lo people believe that if they allow an outsider to set foot in their village within nine days of the ritual, evil spirits will follow them in. If an outsider happens to enter the village, he or she must prepare offerings to make up for their intrusion.
The Village Purifying Ritual of the Lo Lo people contributes to the rich and diverse cultures of ethnic minority groups in Vietnam.