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  Ethnography

The "Muong" Ethnic

Quite a few academics have written lengthy essays to affirm the Muong were the indigenous people. As a native ethnic group sharing the same distant roots with the Kinh (majority people) after the split into two groups (the 10th century), complete with all elements of an ethnic group, the Muong have preserved and developed their rich and original culture, with their own language, customs and practices, literature and art.

The Muong, with a population of more than 1 million people, are scattered in large areas of the provinces of Thanh Hoa, Son La, Phu Tho and Ha Tay, Ninh Binh and West Nghe An. In Hoa Binh Province alone, their population is about 46,000, accounting for 6% of the provincial populace, down to the heels. The delicacy of the dress lies in its multicolor upper hem made of silk, stylized in geometric motifs or bird, dragon and phoenix decorations, to enhance the beauty of the mountainous ladies.

The Muong like sour and bitter food, therefore fish, sour bambooshoot or bitter soups represent their specialties. They have long known how to distill spirits, but their main beverage in the festivities is the "can" wine (drinking wine through a long bamboo pipe), with fascinating rules for drinking that always prolong the merry-making parties.

The "Xec bua" Spring Festival, the " Xuong Dong" (Taking to the paddyfields) ceremony, the "Cau Ma" rituals (Calling up ghosts), the "Rua La Lua" rites (Washing the rice-plant leaves), the "Com Moi" (Welcoming new rice) are traditional fetes that are celebrated even today. The "Xuong Dong" is the biggest and most popular festival, usually held at the start of the new year, staging a procession for the Mountain Genie and taking him back to his shrine. During the fetes, people merrily indulge in games and drinking bouts, singing and dancing, to the rhythm of the indispensable gongs and other musical instruments. They usually perform the harvest feasts and house-warming parties at home.

The well-known epic of 'The Birth of the Earth and Water,' with tens of thousands of verses, in a variety of sections, constitutes an original piece in the treasure of the Muong folklore, rich and diverse, well nurtured by the Muong themselves and appreciated by the Vietnamese. The long ballad expresses the Muong conceptions of mankind and the universe, and the history of their long, arduous struggles with nature for their survival and development. In addition, the Muong have many other genres in their rich folklore treasure: old tales and legends, fables and humours, anecdotes and folk songs, sayings and proverbs, popular satirical verses and parallels.

The love ballads, with wishes and greetings, along with the hat vi a form of dialogue sung in alternating verses, have been long established, with daily creations and additions. The Muong musical instruments include the gong and flute, wooden trumpet and monocord, cymbals and brass drum, guitars and panpipes. In concert performances, the Muong have a set of 6-12 large gongs (called dai chieng sac bua), played in harmony with flutes, at merry-making parties and festivities. To the Muong, the gongs are heirlooms, symbols of wealth and prosperity. The flutes are usually blown on a quiet, peaceful moon-lit night, to call lovers.

Folk games also constitute part and parcel of the Muong culture. During the festivities, while the adults are engaged in the con (multicolour-fabric ball) throwing, swinging, bow and gun shooting, the children indulge in spinning the top and playing the game of sticks, which are very original and healthy.

Nowadays, along with the national development countrywide, with inter-related and interacting ethnic cultures, the Muong culture has seen certain changes. However, what remains affirms that the Muong culture has made worthy contributions to the diversity and unity of the Vietnamese culture in general.

 

The People - (09/09/2003)


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