The H’mong Spring Festival

The H’mong ethnic group lives in the highlands of Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Cao Bang, Lai Chau, Son La, Nghe An, Thanh Hoa and Hoa Binh provinces. Their small settlements comprise 3 to 5 houses, and their big ones will have hundreds of houses.
The biggest H’mong annual festival takes place on the H’mong New Year, which corresponds to the end of the 11th lunar month and beginning of the 12th lunar month of the Vietnamese lunar year. It is held in spring, when the crops have been gathered, and the fields have been ploughed, when the peach trees have started blossoming and the H’mong apple trees are about to bloom. The specific date of the festival varies from one settlement to another.
Because it is an opportunity for everyone to relax and enjoy life after a year of hard work and frugality, the festival usually lasts for one month.
Two days before the festival, the H’mong still work in their fields; preparations only begin on New Year’s Eve.
The first preparation is the slaughtering of a pig: the fat is rendered, and oil kept for use during the year; the lean parts are used for feasts during the Festival.
The second item is the rice pie, which is generally cooked and compressed on the eve of New Year Day and is similar to a rice pie of the Kinh (Vietnamese).
The evening before New Year’s Day, all families are busy cleaning and decorating their houses: pasting white paper, cut in various patterns, on the altar, the wall, the columns; planting branches of peach trees on the door, the seats, beside the beds and several other places; and putting plates of rice pie on the altar.
Then, a nice-looking rooster – which has been fed in a separate cage several months in advance – is slaughtered to perform a ceremony in honour of the ancestor and to welcome the advent of the New Year. After the ceremony, the whole family enjoys a chicken feast. By then, midnight has arrived, and is greeted by salvoes of flint-lock guns (H’mong people, as a time-honoured practice, usually fire their flint-lock guns to welcome the New Year).
What is interesting is that from midnight until the end of the first day of the New Year, men assume the cooking chores, allowing the women to relax to enjoy spring strolls.
Games and cultural performances start on the second day of the festival, involving Pan flutes, the shuttlecock game, the wooden tops game, tug of war, and the kicking game. The girls are clad in new costumes – turbans, dresses, skirts, belts of various colours – and carry beautiful umbrellas that add to their beauty. All the young men and women of several villages assemble at a large stretch of grassland. Then the games and performances begin.
If a top turns round very quickly and noiselessly after being set in motion, its owner is regarded as having attained excellence in the top game.
The Pan flute players blow on their flutes while walking to the rhythm of the flute. Their feet not only try to reflect the rhythm of the flute but also to depict various labours of the feet: climbing mountains and passes, wading through streams and brooks, walking across the dense forests, and so on.
The shuttlecock game is played between young men and women. The girls would snatch only the shuttlecock thrown by boys whom they like.
The umbrellas also play an interesting role in the Festival. The girls stand in groups, their faces and heads covered by umbrellas. A boy approaches and knocks at the umbrella of a girl. The girl turns toward him, and the boy starts singing and playing his Pan flute. Then both stroll together, singing and chanting. If affectionate feelings develop during the stroll, they exchange presents which should sere as evidence of their love: a pair of grass sandals, an umbrella, a belt, a turban, a mirror (from the boy), and a bracelet, a ring, a pair of puttees, an embroidered handkerchief (from the girl). And the romance is soon consummated by a marriage.
If the stroll does not bring about any harmony between minds and hearts, they part silently, and each tries again to find a new partner.
These springs strolls, games and performances continue throughout the month, today in one village, tomorrow in another. Sometimes they are combined with a marriage procession and ceremony, the inauguration of a new house, or the “sai san” (beseeching children) ceremony.

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