A Highland Celebration

11/08/2015

When the rice fields have been harvested and burnt, the Mong ethnic people prepare for their New Year Festival. This event occurs one month before Tet, the Lunar New Year of the Kinh lowlander,

Visitors who come to Vietnam's northern mountains during the Mong Tet will discover a passionate celebration. Hot corn wine is served. Dancer's colorful skirts swirl. This is an occasion for farmers to break free of the daily grind and enjoy a short break. Their houses are full of cooking smells and children's laughter.

Having populated the highlands of Southeast Asia for centuries, the Mong are devided into many branches, such as Black, White and Flower. While their dress varies, they share the same language festivals and pride in their ancient culture. Wherever they are, Mong people look forward to their New Year Festival.

The Kinh people in the lowlands mark Tet by decorating a flowering tree, hanging up red parallel  sentences that express hopes for luck and virtue, and preparing traditional square cakes. The Mong highlanders celebrated differently.

The men clean their tools , such as their hoes, fishing nets, and old fashioned muskets. Once cleaned, these tools are solemnly placed near the family's altar. The house's owner cuts some strips of white paper and glues paper to each tool, to symbolize that the implements have worked hard and will now enjoy a period of relaxation.

Old talismans that have hung from the altar and beams for the past year are  replaced by new ones. The Mong believe that everything has a soul, and that departed ancestors still have power. The corner that houses the altar is rearranged, incense lit, and the ancestors invited to join the festivities and sit by the entrance door.

Incense fills the air and the house smell of cooking food. The women fry cakes and prepare corn wine to serve at the first and most important meal of the year. To make corn wine, the house's owner must rise early and go deep into the forest to find the best bamboo, which he whittles into a pipe. Called a xong, this little bamboo pipe is believed    to hold the energy of the New Year. Water is drawn. The bamboo pipe and the fresh water represent the newness and excitement of a new start for the family in the New Year.

Rice cakes are placed in the kitchen to dry. When visitors come, the cakes are cut into small pieces and fried or grilled, then served hot with corn wine and pork that is boiled or stirred- fried on banana leaves.

While the celebrations are simple, they reveal the hospitality of the Mong people. Out in the play ground, the young man are absorbed with building a bamboo swing. Young unmarried men and women gather beneath  the flowering peach trees on the outskirts of the village to talk and listen the the khen or " pan -pine". Talented young men dance and play the pipes to charm their girlfriends.

 Mong people typically live in remote areas. For these rural people, going to market provides a key entertainment. They trade goods, reunite with old friends and make new ones. The houses are full of people drinking wine and chatting. Out - doors, the kids laugh and play. Tet is the time to renew and build friendships, honor the ancestors, and celebrate enduring traditions.