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  Ethnography

Initiation ceremony of Dao ethnic minority people

Initiated men sitting on the "Ngu Dai Son" preparing for the return to earth

Males from any branch of the Dao ethnic minority group, be they "Dao Do", "Dao Ho" or "Dao Tuyen", must all go through initiation ceremonies and rituals to mark a vital stage in their lives - the transition from teenager to adulthood.

After the initiation, the entire community recognises the boy as a full member. He is then entitled to have his name recorded in the genealogical book and even in Heaven Court Registration files. He can also participate in big affairs of his family and the village, possibly work as a sorcerer, set up his own altar, and his soul will go to the world of his ancestors after his death.

The community usually spurns those who can not afford to hold initiation ceremonies, even when they grow older. In the fetes and feasts of the family or the village, such men are only allowed to do services, and are barred from participation in any activity as a full member.

About 10 days prior to the initiation ceremony, the household head-man selects a lucky day to pray for some advice from the great-grandfathers. A couple of days later, he takes the would-be-initiated boy to the principal sorcerer for his advice. The latter accepts the offerings and agrees to help. From then on, the boy sees the sorcerer as his second father and both must go on a vegetarian diet to keep the holiness of the ceremony.

When the date of the ceremony comes round, the first thing for the householder to do is to fetch the sorcerer to come for the arrangement of the altar. Then come all the rituals: praying to the great-grandfathers return, as well as deities, chasing away all spirits, purging all evils, and building bridges to welcome guests far and near. They also fell trees to erect "Ngu Dai Son" (symbol of Heaven), a temporary structure in the jungle where the boy is trained in the tribe's rites and rituals, and educated in the morality of how to behave as a man. Each rite is a fairly complicated performance in terms of prayers, mysterious gestures and movements, imaginative dances, and are sometimes accompanied by two young girls' singing. The rituals go on and on for a full day and night until the next morning when the real and most important initiation ceremony is held.

At the end of the ceremony, the sorcerer makes offerings to thank the deities and the ancestors for their blessings by burning the paper-cut pictures and amulets that decorate the altar. The thanksgiving rituals come to an end with the newly initiated boy and his father giving thanks and raising a toast to all these attending the ceremony. After that, the "San Co", a masked man, symbolising the giant who is the creator of the universe and the species, walks and dances with procreative movement. He throws rocks and stones to chase away the evil spirits and chops off all chains and fetters, thus opening the way for the newly-initiated young man to make a start in life with good luck.

Besides the historical values depicting the process of the formation of the universe and the human race, the initiation ceremony of the Dao is of profound humanistic significance with teachings and commandments for honesty and piety, righteousness and faithfulness. Its artistic significance lies in the performance of music and dance, in the original folk graphic art and the distinctive folklore with ceremonial discourses containing age-old selective myths and legends, folk tales and brain-teasers, puzzles and proverbs. It is truly an original and fascinating comprehensive cultural phenomenon.

VOV - (14/09/2005)


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