Spring has filled Mong ethnic minority villages in the northern province of Hoa Binh with peach and plum blossoms and the melodious sounds of the khen (panpipe), colouring the Lunar New Year (Tet) festival.
Mong people celebrate Tet during the entire twelfth lunar month each year, a month earlier than the Kinh do. The festive atmosphere can be felt as they excitedly prepare for the festival.
In Pa Co village, Pa Co commune, Mai Chau district, villagers are busy making “banh day” (round sticky rice cake), a traditional cake served as the main dish during Tet.
Like the “banh chung” (square glutinous rice cake) of the Kinh group, banh day is typically used to worship their gods and ancestors. In Mong beliefs, the round banh day symbolises the moon and the sun, believed to be the origin of living beings on earth.
The process of making banh day brings a flurry of activity to every Mong village. Women are in a hurry to steam the sticky rice, the main ingredient of the cake, which is then poured into a wooden gutter and grinded into a pulp by the men.
The pulp is then rolled into small balls and covered with banana leaves. The Mong put six pairs of banh day, representing the 12 months of a year, on the altar as an offering to their ancestors, God and the Harvest God.
According to Hang A Pao, a native, the Mong have meat and cake during the first three days of Tet as it is believed that eating vegetables would lead to an overgrowth of weed and thus a poor crop yield in the new year.
Throughout Tet, a fire is continuously burning in the stoves of every household to keep warm and drive evil away, he said.
Before Tet, household items are covered in “new clothes”, or a kind of paper made from bamboo trees, believed to bring good luck to the whole family, said Pao.
Traditional games are an indispensable component of the festival. Dressed in colourful traditional costumes, men and woman flock to large fields to play folk games and listen to khen performances.
Playing the khen is one way for a Mong boy to court his love interests. Dressed in traditional costumes, Mong boys show off through playing the khen and dancing. Engagements and weddings are common after Tet as a result of relationships developed in these folk games and cultural practices.
The living conditions of Mong people have recently improved thanks to increased production, and more and more new houses can be seen across the villages.
Laughter and cheer continue echoing in Pa Co village, together with exchanged wishes for a good new year.