Thanh The Vinh
Every Lunar February 2nd, Red Dao people in Den Sang Commune (Bat Xat District, Lao Cai Province) celebrate a long-standing traditional ceremony that unites their community.
This ceremony requires careful preparations. The head of the village assigns tasks to each household, and everyone contributes offerings. On the big day, early in the morning, Red Dao males carry the offerings and necessities into the sacred forest. One member of each household goes to help clean and prepare the area around the forest god’s altar.
Four shamans attend the ceremony, with one selected as the chief. The chief shaman must have a great reputation and strong understanding of the various rituals relating to the forest god’s altar. First, incense and offerings are dedicated, and prayers are uttered to invite the forest god to come and witness the villagers’ devotion. Dao people hold the worship ceremony to ask the forest god for protection, so that their village may have a smooth year with favorable weather, good crops, safety, and healthy cattle. This ancient ceremony has been preserved as a way for Dao people to express their fidelity to nature. They believe that: “Where there is forest, there is life. Should there be no forest, there will be nothing”.
During the ceremony, the villagers discuss other community affairs, and regulations regarding the protection and management of the forest. In particular, Dao people uphold the following regulations for the sacred forest: No cutting down trees. No exploiting the forest. No fire. No building houses. No hunting, collecting wood, or grazing. Those who intrude on the forest face severe punishment. As the ceremony ends, the village’s elderly people educate the next generation on their responsibility to preserve and develop the forest. The continued existence of rare medicines made by the Dao from precious herbs depends on protecting the forest. At the end, offerings are shared among the villagers so that everybody receives equal blessings.
The worshipping of forest gods is an age-old traditional ceremony that retains a major influence on the spiritual lives of Red Dao people. Through this ceremony, communal connections are formed, contributing to raising the Dao’s awareness of protecting forest and water resources.