The “sen ban, sen muong” Festival

This festival is held by the Thai ethnic group in mid-2nd lunar month and comprises two stages: the “sen Bin” festival is held for two consecutive years, then the “sen Muong” festival is held on the third year.
The Thai ethnic group dwells mainly in Lai Chau and Son La provinces, in the northwestern part of Hoa Binh province, in the western part of Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces. The Thai ethnic group shares the same habitat with other groups – such as the Muting and Kinh (Vietnamese). There are some variations in customs among the Thai living in various areas. We give below an account of the “sen Bin sen Muting” festival held in Mai Chau area (Hoa Binh) province.
“Sen Bin” is the festival of a “bin” (a Thai village), and is designed to ask for good luck. A few days prior to the festival, villagers set out to clean the public shrines, each family’s private altars in their house yards and fields (dedicated to the Genius of the Earth and Soil), and to repair the roads and paths.
On the morning of the Festival day, all villagers, clad in their best, carry offerings to the public place of worship to hold a ceremony. In the afternoon, they give offerings to the Genius of the Earth and Soil and beg for good crops. The village head also holds a ceremony in the field to drive away all the evil spirits that may harm the community.
The “sen ban” festival is associated with agricultural production and is designed to secure a good crop in the new year.
The “sen muong” festival is bigger, as “Muong” means a district – an administrative unit which comprises many communes and villages. The “Sen Muong” festival comprises many items, of which the main ones are as follows:
On the opening day of the festival, a procession marches from the house of the “Tao Muong” (the Chief of the Muong) to the communal house. It is headed by the “Tao Muong” and other district authorities. They are followed by a group of players and carriers of 4 bronze gongs, one big drum, some Pan flutes, flutes, two-string traditional violins, and trumpets. Then come the notables and elders of the village wearing red turbans, yellow silk gowns, indigo coloured pants and green belts. They carry crossbows and arrows and escort two big buffaloes whose horns are covered with gold paper and whose foreheads and buttocks are plastered with “ban” flower patterns cut from paper. These buffaloes are to be slaughtered as offerings to the Chief Genius at the main temple and to the Door Keeper Guardian. The group is also followed by a detachment of soldiers, clad in red dresses, yellow pants, puttees, yellow hats with red tops and carrying flint-lock guns, swords and spears.
As the procession arrives at the communal house, an old sorcerer wearing a blue gown and a hat with a red swallow-tail comes forward and, after making a short announcement, rings a bell. Immediately, the buffaloes are taken to the yard and slaughtered. The boys and girls start performing the “Xoe” dance around the butchers until the operation is over.
The second day is marked by a Muong-wide shooting contest with flint-lock guns and crossbows. The first phase is a conventional contest with targets set at a distance of 50 to 60 footsteps. The second and more important phase involves shooting successively at 3 grape-fruits as they roll down the roof of a house. The winner must hit all the 3 grape-fruits, and receives as a reward a full tray of offerings consisting of glutinous rice, meat dishes and an ivory handled knife.
The “Con” ball game starts on the third day. The “Con” ball is a packet of cotton wrapped in a cloth packet with fringes of various colours. Pairs of boy and girls take turns in playing the game: the first partner must strive to throw the ball accurately through a circle located at the top of a pole, while the second partner must catch it as it falls down. Provided the first partner succeeds in his or her performance, the score will be worked out on the basis of the performance of the second partner, that is, how many times did he or she fail in catching the ball. Those who lose must surrender their turbans and/or dresses which they may subsequently try to recover by begging the winners to be generous.
The third night is also market by a contest of songs and Pan flutes, organized at two different places: at the entrance of the village and at the end of the village. The prize for the best singer is a tray containing a beautiful piece of cloth, 2 silver bracelets, 2 bottles of liquor and two plates of betel and areca nut. The prize for the best Pan flute player is a number of beautiful pieces of cloth woven and contributed by the local girls. This means the bigger the number of girl participants, the greater the number of cloth presents.
Both festivals are good opportunities for unmarried young men and women to become acquainted. This leads to romances and, eventually, marriages.

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