“Tomb – abandonment” Festival in the Central Highlands

This festival is usually held by the Jarai and Ede ethnic groups during the pre-Spring period. This festival has its root in a practice of the ethnic groups in the Central Highlands who, while not worshipping their ancestors on a regular basis, look after their tombs for a period of 5-6 years and thereafter perform a final ceremony in which they abandon them.
The Jarai ethnic group, who dwells in Gia Lai province, believes that the soul of the deceased person still lives and takes the form of various animal such as gecko, boa, snake or toad. Therefore, the living must look after the soul of the dead, must provide it with food and other necessities, must both cry and laugh in order to make the soul happy and less inclined to come home and disturb the living relatives. After the burial is performed with specific rituals, people continue, on a regular basis, to perform ceremonies and provide offerings to the dead. The coffin and the upper part of the tomb contain an adequate amount of the necessities used by the dead during his or her lifetime. The tomb is often cleaned and the family members and relatives come there to eat, drink and converse with the soul of the dead. Further, a house is built over the tomb to protect it. Five years later, a ceremony is held to bid farewell, and thereafter the tomb is left unattended.
To the Jarai ethnic group, the “Tomb Abandonment” festival is the biggest and most cheerful one of the year. It is attended by all the local villagers and even acquaintances from other villages, and lasts for 3 or 4 days. It involves two or three slaughtered buffaloes and hundreds of small jars of liquor. The house sheltering the tomb is gaily decorated, with its columns and beams covered with colourful geometrical patterns. Even the fences around the tomb house are decorated with figures of human beings, monkeys, tortoises, birds, water bottles, cooking pots, flowers and leaves and more. Most of the artistic painting talent of the Jarai ethnic group is on display at the mausoleum. A “liquor house” which is built nearby the mausoleum serves as the place for conducting the ceremony. A waist-deep ditch is dug around the mausoleum, except for two small patches of land which are used as the tomb’s entrance and exit. They are considered “the line of communications” between the dead and the living.
The ceremony, among the Jarai people, begins in the afternoon of the day of a full moon. It takes the form of musical performances and the “Rong chieng” dance. From the house of the bereaved family, a team of gong players and a team of dancers clad in new and colourful costumes (skirt, and blouse for women, loincloth for men) set out for the tomb house which is usually about one or two kilometers from the village. The boys beat gongs as they walk, while the girls dance and wave their colourful scarves to the rhythm of the music.
Upon arrival, the two teams dance around the tomb house. They are soon joined by boys and girls from neighbouring villages. Soon the whole thing becomes a music and dance competition: the local girls regularly bring bowls of liquor to the boys. The competition thus goes on until all are either tired or drunk. At day-break, each team of gong players is offered a small jar of liquor. After drinking, each person seeks a place under a tree in order to have a nap. A few hours earlier, the local girls would have left for the village to prepare a good meal for the guests).
The next day the guests are invited to come to the village for a feast marking the official part of the festival.
Thereafter, the head of the bereaved family comes to the tomb house and then, with tears and laments, bids farewell to the deceased. Guests from the neighbouring villages also offer some handfuls of food so that the soul may carry them to the other world and distribute it to other relatives. Then some earth diggings are done around the tomb to remove “the lines of communications” between the deceased and the living.
While members of the bereaved family are grieving, other people continue to eat and drink, the boys and girls play music, dance and sing. At sunset, the neighbours have to leave for their home villages, regrets fill the expression and the gaze of many who can scarcely hide their feelings.
The head of the bereaved family waits patiently until all have gone before he puts the “liquor house” in order, and removes all that should be taken horn. He then sets fire to the “liquor house” and the “tomb house”. From now on, the deceased and its soul have definitely left for an entirely different world.
Thus, starting as an essentially religious ceremony, the “Tomb Abandonment” festival has eventually become a spring merry-making festival of some ethnic groups in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam.

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