“Buffalo Slaughtering” Festival

Most ethnic groups in the Central Highlands hold the “Buffalo Slaughtering” festival but with some differences in character and purpose. One may detect four kinds of “buffalo slaughtering” festivals:
1. Those held after the harvest and at the beginning of a new agricultural season.
2. Those connected with the celebration of an important victory or with a sisters relationship between villages.
3. Those related to a ceremony designed to drive away evil spirits and protect a community (against epidemics or bad crop) or related to the fate of a person (to cure illness or to express gratitude to God).
4. Those related to a funeral or a marriage.
These differences are also reflected in the scale and organization of the festival which may be:
1. organized by a family with community participation, where the head of the family that sacrifices the buffalo officiates at the ceremony.
2. organized by a village, and so officiated by the village head.
3. a combined ceremony between a family and the village, where the ceremony dedicated to the Earth God is officiated by the village head.
4. organized jointly by several villages, for example, a ceremony connected with a sisters’ relationship.
The venue of the festival is either in front of the “rong” house (communal house) or in the house of each family.
Below is an account of the “Buffalo slaughtering” festival as organized by three major ethnic groups in the Central Highlands.
1 – Buffalo Slaughtering Festival of the Jarai
The festival is held in front of the “rong” house. In the middle of the yard is planted the “Gingga”, a wooden pole with carved images and decorated in various colours. In the early morning, a buffalo is tied to the “Gingga”, while a big pig is also tied nearby. When all the villagers are present, the village head who officiates the ceremony approaches the “Gingga” and recites the prayers beseeching the Gods to accept the festival offerings and bestow peace and prosperity on the village.
The end of the prayers is greeted by yells and howls from the villagers, gongs and drum beats, which echo from the hills and forests. Then comes a feast of liquor which is drunk from a common jar with the help of bamboo tubes. Following this, boys and girls join hands to perform dances, to the accompaniment of the gongs. They dance until very late in the night.
One the next day, drum and gong beats again resound, this time signaling the buffalo slaughtemg. This is preceded by a dance of young men armed with swords and shields, moving around in quick movements. Then comes the slaughtering of the buffalo. The young man who succeeds with one stroke of his sword in killing the buffalo is declared brave. Then the buffalo is cut up and distributed in equal shares to members of the village. In particular, its head and horns are escorted to the “rong” house, while its blood is mixed with liquor and used to clean valuable decorative items in the “rong” house such as weapons, gongs, and horns.
2 – Buffalo Slaughtering Festival of the Bahnar
(They dwell mainly in Kontum province and in the mountainous areas of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen provinces).
Several days prior to the festival, people set about planting the “Gung” pillar which consists of 4 decorated and coloured poles arranged as a place for the Gods to sit and witness the festival. Then a Kapok tree is planted in the yard for tying the buffalo.
On the first day, the village head and 5 or 7 elders perform rituals in front of the “Gung” pillar. Thereafter, the villagers perform dances around the pillar to the accompaniment of gongs and cymbals.
A young man with a long lance dances to the rhythm of drumbeats, gong, and screams of the crowd. He then pierces the buffalo’s heart. While the buffalo remains standing the lance is withdrawn. Then a man standing to the side places a bronze cauldron with some wine under the wound and catch the blood. The village’s oldest men cut pieces from the ears and nose, and some hairs from its tail. Together with the blood, these are offered to the God. After the ritual the buffalo is carved and distributed to all the villager.
Buffalo-slaughtering festivals take place in many parts of Tay Nguyen Highland. They may differ in time and organization, but the common point is that each ceremony is, in fact, a martial arts worship ritual in which young men of the villages are able to show their hunting skill.
The second day is devoted to buffalo slaughtering. After a round of drum and gong beats, the young men set about killing the buffalo, with accolades going to the person who succeeds in thrusting the sword into the heart of the animal.
The buffalo is then cut up and given to the villagers in equal shares. In particular, its liver is cut into small pieces and distributed to the young men, because the Bahnar people believe that buffalo liver will give tremendous strength to the person who eats it. Thereafter, villagers perform the “soang” dance, to the accompaniment of drum, gongs and cymbals, until late in the night.
3 – Buffalo Slaughtering Festival of the Ede
(They dwell mainly in Dae Lac province)
A Kapok tree is also planted in the yard. When the festival begins, a buffalo is tied to that tree. The tree and the buffalo are usually surrounded by the crowd.
After several rounds of drum and gong beats, the village head, who officiates the ceremony, offers prayers to the Gods and then opens the festival by Striking the front leg of the buffalo with a knife. Then, a young man (designated in advance), armed with a knife, runs around the buffalo once and then strikes the hind leg of the animal with his knife. Seething with pain, the animal breaks free and runs away, but the young man runs after it and strikes the right leg. The animal falls down.

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