New Year customs of the Dao ethnic people

Chia sẻ

(VOVWORLD) - Each of Vietnam’s ethnic minority groups have particular customs to celebrate New Year Holiday (Tet). Each Tet custom shows the unique cultural characteristics of each group. Nowadays, although life has changed, the cultural identity and customs of the Dao people in Khe Ma village, Tan Huong commune, Yen Binh district, Yen Bai province are still preserved.

To celebrate a New Year, in addition to preparing food and supplies, the Dao people in Khe Ma village, Tan Huong commune must also clean their houses and clear the village roads. Mrs. Ly Thi Vang said:

“We must sweep the house, clean the area, get everything cleaned, and after that, we use water to wash away the old dust to welcome the new spring, and every house must do the same.”

Tet is an opportunity to pay tribute to the ancestors and report spiritually about the achievements of the past year, and pray for good things to come in the new year. Dao families in Khe Ma village take great care of Ban Ho, the ancestors' altar, and Ban Vuong, a person with merit to the Dao. On each altar, a bowl of incense and a cup of water are placed solemnly. According to the shaman Ly Van Sy, the altars of ancestors and Ban Vuong are very important, and helps their descendants always remember their roots and take responsibility for passing the tradition to future generations:

“We clean and decorate the altar and ask the shaman to come. If we don't know how to perform the ritual, the shaman will help us, we will make offerings to them and finish everything on the last day before Tet. This sweeping ritual is only indoors, an opening ritual. The actual ritual is different. It’s calling for the spirits. We sweep, move the altar, use the incense pot then ask for the shaman to bless them before taking them back. Before taking them back, three incense sticks need to be burned outside of the house, when the pot is back in the house the shaman will do another ritual.”

For Mr. Ly Van Thang - Head of Khe Ma village, the act of housecleaning, cutting special ritual paper with colors to decorate the altar of ancestors and Ban Vuong is to expel the evil away, and welcome better luck in the new year :

“We clean the house and prepare everything fresh to welcome a brand new spring, a new year, new fortune, new luck. The incense is lit from the last day of the old year to the next day.  A pack of incense must be kept burning all day to pray for good luck and family safety.”

The Dao people in Khe Ma village celebrate the year-end ceremony like Dao people everywhere. By the morning of the 1st, the head of the family gets up early to prepare the chicken for the ceremony. Mr. Ly Van Thang said:

 On the morning of the first day, according to the customs of Dao, we will get up early to butcher a rooster or chicken to offer to our ancestors and to examine the chicken feet. Dao people believe there are signs showing if the year is going to be good. If the chicken legs are beautiful, that year shall be very comfortable.”

For the Dao in Khe Ma, whether rich or poor, they slay pigs whenever Tet comes. There must be a pig head on the Dao’s offering tray for the ancestors and the "god of heaven and earth" that brings happiness and prosperity to the family. The offering tray must contain chicken, rice cake, and traditional Dao salad. In addition, Dao people need to prepare wine, incense, water, and paper money stamped with a circle. According to shaman Ly Van Sy, if the head of the family knows how to perform it, they can also get the ritual done by themselves, or invite a shaman.

On the first day of Tet, the Dao families in Khe Ma burn incense all day and the oil lamp on the altar must always stay lit. From the second day onward, the burning of incense depends on each family. On the 15th, the Dao Khe Ma burn the paper money with another ritual for the departure of the ancestors.

In order to preserve and promote the heritage of ancient literacy in Yen Binh district, every year on the first day of the New Year, the village shaman holds a class to teach children Han letters. This is one of the beauties of the Dao every Tet occasion. As for the instructor (perhaps the shaman, or the tribal doctor who knows Han), he holds a bunch of torches to open the gate to dispel the evil ghosts away from the house at 4:00 a.m. on the first day of the New Year. Villager Ly Van Thang added:

“According to Dao ethnic custom, if shamans want to pass on their skills to their children and grandchildren, they will have to open their gates and dispel beggar ghosts, then burn incense to worship their ancestors to pray that their children will receive good literacy skills. Passing on the knowledge to the next generation is important in Dao culture.

New Year customs of the Dao ethnic people - ảnh 1Dao people pick a good day to teach their children letters (Photo: 

Early in the morning of the first day of the Lunar New Year, according to Dao tradition, each family, the elderly and the head of the family will organize sessions to teach their children. If the elderly or the family cannot organize it, then the children will go to the home of the shaman to study. Boys from 10 to 13 years old will be able to learn letters and when they come to learn, they absolutely must not eat anything because, if they eat rice or cake or anything else before learning, they will not be smart, bright or able remember the letters.

According to Mrs. Ly Thi Vang, there are also specific rules for teaching Han letters. 

“When learning Han letters, first we have to hit the drum, then only after that the learning session can be started. 5 to 8 people study together, after that they must also hit the drums together. The only course is available for study from January 1 to January 15. From 15 onward it's over and there will be no other chance.”

For the Dao people, teaching letters is not simply teaching their children how to read and write letters of the ethnic group, it also teaches them to learn the emotions and logic of their ancestral roots.

Dao people pick days of good fortune to teach literature to children, days from the 1st to the 15th of the first month are all of good fortune according to their beliefs. Some would go further to pick a day that resonates well with their child’s zodiac, ensuring a good path of education for the child.

For Dao people in Khe Ma village, after the new year’s eve meal, they have to bathe in water boiled with herbs and roots - as a way to wash away dust and bad omens of the year in order to welcome a new year purer and with more luck. Dao people have certain taboos to avoid to welcome the first day of the year without bad omens,.

The Dao people of Khe Ma village believe that good omens on the first days of the year will result in a whole year of good fortune and vice versa. With that being said, the community has certain taboos for several days a year so that their entire year can have good fortune. On the last day of the year (i.e. 30th of Tet), the family has to sweep the house, clean the ancestral altar, and sweep away all the bad fortune of the year. The entire family polishes the house together to greet the new year.

Shaman Ly Van Sy said: "The brooms should not be touched during day 1 of the new year, even the leftovers from meals should be left on the floor. Day 1 is a taboo day, no cussing and yelling at children is allowed”

The reason for not sweeping the house on the first day of the year is Dao people believe that sweeping may take away good fortune from the house, therefore no matter how busy the last day of the year is, every house must be swept clean. Disciplining children is also avoided for fear of an unhappy family. 

Dao people in Khe Ma take all clothes and personal items that would be used during Tet out before New Year’s Eve. the Red Dao people believe that not opening closets and drawers during first days of the year will help them keep what they make during the year. If they forget to take something out, they are not able to do so during Tet. According Dao tradition, the people are keen to share resources and help each other before Tet; however they do not give anything away on the first day of the new year, except lucky money for children and hosting meals at home.

Village chief Ly Van Thang added, “As Dao tradition dictates, especially on day 1 (of the new year) we do not sweep a thing, even drawers, safes are not supposed to open, treasures are not (supposed) to be touched, (in order to) welcome new fortune, new treasure. “

In the following days, everyone can visit relatives and neighbors for new year wishes. People of all ages can joyfully gather in community areas, in open playgrounds, or village cultural houses, to revisit traditions, good practices, and core values of Dao people.