|The wood stove is a sacred place in the house of the Tay and many other ethnic groups. (Photo: VOV)
The Tay consider their wood stove a sacred place. It’s where the Fire Godfather lives.
Hoang Thi Nhuan, a culture researcher in Cao Bang province, says the square stove is yin and the Fire Godfather is yang. The harmony and balance of yin and yang produces all things in the universe. On New Year's Eve, every house burns a big wood log. One end of the log represents the old year and the other end is the new year.
“On New Year’s Eve or Tet, our ancestors return home to celebrate the occasion, so the house must be bright and cozy. The weather is always cold during Tet. We have a saying – ‘warm as a flame, good as the old days’. The prosperity of the old year will continue and increase in the new year. The flame will never die. Where there is a flame, there is life. On New Year's Eve, an elderly person blows on the fire to make it flame up and boils water to offer to the ancestors,” said Mrs. Nhuan.
She added that before burning incense on the altar, the elderly person reads a prayer:
“When the new year arrives,
Kitchen God, please light up,
Chase away and burn down bad luck,
And welcome home good luck.
From now on, it will be warm like a flame
And be like the peaceful old year.
The whole new year will be good.
We can do whatever we want.
We can enjoy fortune wherever we go.
When we travel, the wind and rain won't affect us.
We pray for health and success for everyone.”
The Tay live in mountain forests where wood is plentiful. In the winter, their wood stove warms the house. The kitchen shelf stores utensils and food. The flame is kept burning continuously.
“The flame in the stove is kept burning. The Tay roll up a ragged cloth on a stick to make tinder to carry fire to the fields to burn grass. They burn hardwood branches to keep the embers hot for a long time,” Mrs. Nhuan said.
According to Tay tradition, when they finish building a house, the first thing they do is build a clay stove 5-7 cm below the floor, with 3 flat stones or an iron tripod on which to cook. The interior design may vary, but all houses have one thing in common – sunlight does not shine directly into the kitchen.
When the kitchen is finished, the Tay hold a ceremony to invite the Fire God into the house. In the kitchen, there is an altar for the Kitchen God and the Fire God. A small bamboo altar with a bamboo incense burner are hung next to the kitchen. The space around the stove is large enough for many people to sit.
Luong Thiem Phu of Quang Ninh province talks about taboos related to the kitchen.
“Our ancestors told us that people are not allowed to put their feet on the tripod or the stove or move the incense burner, because that’s where the Fire God lives.”
“Other rules are: put logs on the fire with care, don’t chop logs in the kitchen, don’t spit in or near the kitchen, and don’t sit with your back to the fire, as it is disrespectful to the Kitchen God. Put a pot on the tripod with its handle vertical. Only when there is a recent death in the family may a pot’s handle be horizontal.”
The life of the Tay is changing, but people still worship the Fire God and the Kitchen God. An eternal flame in the stove symbolizes solidarity and close bonds between family members.