The La Village Festival

La Ca village now belongs to Duong Noi commune, Hoai Bac district, Ha Tay province. To visit it from Ha Noi, follow Highway N°. 6 go past Ha Dong town, proceed 2 kilomtres further along the highway and then turn right and walk along a gravel road for 3 kilometres.
The village worships a Spirit Protector, Duong Canh, who is the son of a God. Under the reign of the 16th Hung King (BC), Duong Canh was the military commander of this region who performed meritorious service of killing the tigers that ravaged local villages. A festival is organized in his honour, every year, from the 1st to 14th of the 1st lunar month.
The Festival starts with a procession that brings the Spirit’s palanquin from the Quan to the communal house. Thereafter, religious ceremonies are held twice a day from the 8th to the 14th of the 1st lunar month. The festival also includes games, theatrical plays, festival songs, the swing, cock and fights.
The most exhilarating event takes place on the concluding night (the 14th day of the 1st lunar month) when a simulated hunting game is performed, accompanied by a controversial social practice. Amid the glaring light of lamps and torches, a man with a tiger-like head sits in the back chamber of the communal house, with symbolic trees all around him. Then, a young man and woman appear on the stage, singing songs dedicated to the Spirit Protector of the village. Amidst the sounds of cock crowing and dog barking, the woman loudly inquires: “We, hunters are here to welcome and escort our Village Spirit to his palace. Hunters, have you seen anything?” The young man replies: “No, we see nothing, only a magpie robin!”.
Meanwhile, a group of officials, brandishing swords, clubs, lamps and torches also search around the sitting tiger. As and when the group of officials goes away, the girl again asks: “Hunters, have found anything?” The young man replies: “No, only a strange snail”.
The search game is repeated again and again. After another round, the boy finally replies positively:
“Yes, we have seen a tiger with a yellow whisker. Young villagers, let us hurry up to catch the tiger, in order to present its skin to the King, to turn its claws into knife- handles for the King, to turn its tongue into a delicious dish for the King, and to boil its bones to produce and ingredient for painting the palanquin”.
The exhortation is followed by the sounds of gongs and drums, and the deafening explosion of firecrackers. The group of officials pounces on the tiger who runs around the communal house for 3 times, then heads for the front gate where its head is thrown away, thus putting an end to the hunting.
Thereafter, the final ceremony is held in the communal house as a preparatory step for escorting the Spirit’s palanquin from there to the Quart. Also, in accordance with an old-standing practice, when the Spirit’s altar and his tablet are transported from the back chamber of the communal house to the palanquin all lamps and torches must be extinguished for three very slow rounds of drum and gong-beating. In these minutes of darkness, boys and girls, men and women can freely caress and kiss one another, at least that was the case prior to 1945. Things rarely went beyond caressing and kissing. There were also naughty boys and men who took advantage of the darkness in order to tease old women, whose shouts of indignation would add to the atmosphere of festival night.
After the end of the third round of drum and gongs, torches and lamps are lighted, and people set about escorting, with due respect, the palanquin, containing the altar and the tablet, to the abode of the Village Spirit. The Festival has come to a happy conclusion.
Note: The same practice can be found in the festivals of several other villages.
Every year Ngu Xa village (Que Vo district, Bac Ninh province) holds 2 festivals: the Spring one on the 11th of the 3rd lunar month and the Autumn one on the 8th of the 9th lunar month. On both occasions, the festival ends with a religious ceremony involving rites and prayers by the notables accompanied by ritual songs performed by professional female singers. All lamps, candles and torches are then extinguished for a period of 15 minutes to the joy of young men and women. After 15 minutes, lamps and candles are again lighted and the ceremony goes on.
Khac Niem village also belongs to Que Vo district. It holds a festival on the 5th and 6th of the 1st lunar month. One of the events is the sticky-rice cooking contest between two groups of young men, that takes place right in the communal house. As soon as a group finishes the cooking ahead of the other, and pours the newly cooked rice into a flat basket, all the lights go out. The other group must finish its work in the dark. But the episode, which lasts for 15 minutes, is taken advantage of by young men and women for caresses and kisses, while the winning cooks run out of the communal house with the basket of glutinous rice and is pursued by a number of people. After 15 minutes, the cooks return to the communal house with their basket or rice, and the lamps and candles are relit.
This practice was severely criticized by feudal scholars who ascribed it to the cult of evil and erotic spirits. But the link beween life and sex is intrinsic to many religions, and is probably related to the universal desire for the continued growth of the population, as well as the need for more animals and plants.

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