The Hien Quart Festival

Hien Quan village – nowadays known as Hien Quan commune – belongs to Tam Nong district, Phu Tho province. Every year it holds a festival on the 13th day of the 1st lunar month to commemorate Thieu Hoa, a woman who became a general under the two Trung Sisters (AD 40).
According to legends, Thieu Hoa hailed from Ba Vi mountain area. As she attained womanhood, the pretty girl settled down in Hien Quan village and, soon, joined the insurgent army of the Trung Sisters to fight for national independence. After the final victory, she was appointed local commander in Hien Quan. One day, as she went out for a stroll, she suddenly vanished in a violent rain in a strong gust of wind.
The festival commemorating lady commander Thieu Hoa starts on the 2nd day of the 1st lunar month, but the main ceremony takes place on the 13th day of the 1st lunar month. It consists of many events: processions, spear throwing, troop reviews, and the “Phet” ball game.
Spear throwing:
This event is held on the 2nd day of the 1st lunar month. It starts with the offering of joss-sticks, flowers, betel, liquor and “soldiers’ rations” to Lady commander Thieu Hoa: three cakes as big as the diameter of the main pillar of the communal house, rice custards, sweet cakes and fruit.
Then, the master of ceremonies places a wooden target in the yard of the communal house – the target reaches the head of a human being – with a moon-shaped circle in the middle. Turning toward the altar, he passes out wooden javelins to men aged over 53 years old, 5 javelins to each. Each javelin has a diameter of 3 mm, a length of one metre, and is sharply-pointed at one end. Each person is to throw the javelins, one by one, at the target from a distance of 10 metres. When a javelin hits inside the circle, it is greeted by drumbeats. Any person who hits the circle three times is the winner. After the contest, the three big cakes are distributed equally to all participants. This symbolizes the way Lady commander Thieu Hoa distributed rations to her soldiers.
Troop review:
On the 12th day of the first lunar month, a solemn procession and ceremony is held. After 9 drum-beats followed by a fanfare of gongs, cymbals and drums, a group of young villagers carry a palanquin containing Lady Commander Thieu Hoa’s tablets to the festival ground. The palanquin is followed by two altars in which there is a tray containing a ball made from the root of a bamboo and covered with red-coloured paper. At the same time, a procession carries another palanquin, containing the tablets of Thieu Hoa’s parents from Phuc Khanh pagoda, to the same place, where both palanquins are put under a palm-cabbage roof. Lacquered and gilded trays of offerings follow the two palanquins.
Then comes the “troop review”, the main event of the festival. Two army units, one carrying the effigy of a dragon and the other the effigy of a tiger, enter the festival ground. Each detachment is headed by three old men with hair hanging loose or in buns. The young men are bare-chested, clad in loin cloth and hold wooden spears or clubs. The old men prostrate three times in front of Thiiu Hoa’s altar amid hurrahs from the onlookers. After the ceremony, the conductor takes the “command flags” from the altar and gives them to the old men who raise them over their heads as a signal and order to the troops. Immediately thereafter, the young men, in two rows, starts running and shouting loudly. This symbolizes the departure of troops under Thieu Hoa’s command to the front.
Then comes the scramble for flags, which symbolizes the battles fought by the troops: members of the two detachment run at each other and try to snatch the flags of their opponents, midst shouts and drums and gong beats. Finally the two detachments intertwine with one another while running in front of the altar. The performance creates an exhilarating atmosphere that pervades the whole festival.
“Phet” ball game:
Another thrilling event is the “Phet” ball game, again involving the above-mentioned two groups.
At the start, the two groups stand on both sides of the altar. The conductor walks in between the two rows and approaches the altar to perform the ceremony of receiving the “Phet” ball and taking it to the game ground. One person carries a tray containing the “Phet” ball while another holds a parasol to escort the master to the field amidst the shouts of both team. The master and the carrier of the ball come to a knee-deep hole dug in the middle of the field. There, the master sings a folk verse, each sentence being greeted by a hurrah from both teams. Having finished the verse, he throws the “Phet” ball into the hole. Members of the two teams immediately compete to take the ball out of the hole. Each tries to seize and kick it to their side of the field. Big hurrahs would greet players who succeed in getting the ball closer to the target.
According to legend, the “Phet” ball game symbolizes a training exercise practiced by Lady commander Thieu Hoa.
Note: The “Phet” ball game is played in various forms in other villages.
In Truong Xa village (Song Thao district, Vlnh Phuc province), the “Phet” ball is made from the root part of a banana tree and is painted red. While the game is played between two teams, it involves two holes dug on the extreme eastern and western ends of the field. The players each use a bamboo bat to hit the ball to the hole on their side of the field. Once the ball is in the hole, the players of the scoring side try to prevent players of the other team from recovering it.
Thuong Lap village (Vinh Lac district, Vinh Phuc province) also plays the “Phet” ball game with similar rules. But the “Phet” ball is made from bead-tree wood, is lacquered and gilded, and must be thrown into the air instead of being led on the ground.
The game is far different in Son Vi village (Phong Chau district, Vinh Phuc province), where the “Phet” ball is very- heavy as is made from ironwood. A hole deep enough to stand in is dug in the middle of the communal yard. Two members of the two teams stand ready inside the hole to wait for the ball. When the master throws the ball into the hole, the two men immediately scramble for it, and when either succeeds in bringing the ball out of the hole the two teams rush in to get it. The ball can be moved by hands or bats, but hands are likely to be used in the game. If the ball is taken to the field area belonging to one team, that team is the winner.
Some ethnologists think that the “Phet” ball game originates from or is related to the cult of the Sun.

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