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Enjoy Tet in Central Highlands

The people of ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands have two big festivals before and after the lunar traditional New Year: the harvest festival and the rain-praying festival.

In the middle of the lunar December when the crop has already been harvested, the ethnic people in the Central Highlands celebrate the harvest festival. The E De people call it M’ham Thun. The Mo Nong people call it M’han Ba. The Co Ho people call it Brio Rha.

They slaughter bulls, buffaloes, chicken and ducks to enjoy Tet. Having worshiped gods, ancestors, and the soul of rice and expressed wishes for good health and a bumper crop, they dance and enjoy the festival in the sound of gongs over several days and nights.

The rice trimming festival or the rain praying festival is held at the end of lunar March and early lunar April with the beginning of a new crop. This is an occasion to reflect the strength of the community.

This is viewed as the most original festival in the Central Highlands. Villagers together contribute pigs and chickens to prepare a worshipping ceremony to pray for favourable rain and wind for a bumper crop of rice and coffee.

The place where the ceremony takes place is often a square-shaped piece of land with a 60-metre perimetre. Two westeast-direction tents are set up. One tent stands for the house of Ae Die people who create land and water. On the floor of the tent is a statue of Ae Die and his wife and under the floor is a statue of Yan Gale, a god with bad character who usually harms the crop and people.

Next to the Ae Die statue stands a plate on which a slaughtered cock is placed. Next to the plate is T’rung musical instrument - the god instrument of Ae Die as the legend has it.

The tent to the left stands for the grain store of Ae Die which brings comfort to the community. Rice made from smooth soil is piled up around the tent. A branch of a bamboo tree is pitched on the roof of the store, symbolising the “god tree” where four feather-removed and head-cut chickens are hanged. Under this tent houses fighting tools such as cross-bows, bows, spears and broadswords made from bamboo or wood.

Next to this tent places 11 gongs of Ae Die made from the cover of dried gourds. The yards of the two tents place wild animals made from bamboo, wood or banana tree, including elephants, bears, giraffes, deer, boars, porcupines and rabbits which often destroy the crop and fields in the mountain.

Some traps are placed around the tents. Behind the yard places brass musical instruments, including a large drum and from three to five gongs. A wizard carries out a symbolic ceremony to sow the seeds and water the field. Then, children rush in to take animals to nearby lawns. They use rods to beat these animals, symbolising a punishment for having destroyed the crop.

The wizard takes wild elephants and boars to a separate place. Boars are shot to death with bullets and elephants are stricken with an axe and then put on a chain as if it has been tamed.

In the continuous sound of drums, the crowd pours into the bamboo tent storing rice (symbolic) of Ae Die to take a handful home as rice seeds for the coming crop.

The seething atmosphere of the festival spreads and reverberates throughout resounds the whole village. The ceremony ends in the late afternoon, villagers together gather at the house of the ceremony’s host to drink ruou can, beat gongs and dance. The festival lasts for three days and nights and after that villagers start sowing seeds for the crop.

Travelling to the Central Highlands on the lunar New Year to enjoy the sound of gongs and delicious ruou can, tourists understand why the sound of gongs can make a village chiefs tears fall, refresh the smile on on E De girls’ lips and create aspirations of a better life.

ND - (07/02/2005)

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