The northern mountainous province of Lai Chau is home to many different ethnic minority groups, including the Thai ethnic community, which are working hard to preserve traditional culture and festivals.
Lung Tung, Then Kin Pang, Nang Han, Kin lau khau mau, and Han Khuong festivals are some of the unique festivals of the Thai ethnic people in the locality.
Lung Tung Festival
The Thai people in Than Uyen district held their traditional New Year festival of Lung Tung (Going to the field) from the 6th – 10th days of the first lunar month.
This festival was last held in 1960 and gradually disappeared. It was revived in 2018, contributing to preserving and promoting the cultural identity of the Thai people in particular and the ethnic minorities of Than Uyen district and Lai Chau province in general
Lung Tung consists of two parts featuring the offering ceremony and festive activities.
Highlights of the festival, marking the start of a new farming year, are rituals paying tribute to Han (a deity that helps the Thai fight against invaders and defend their territory) and the gods of the mountains and the forest.
The local authority representatives and people went to the field to perform the plowing and sowing rituals, hoping for a year of bumper crops and good weather.
During festive activities, local people and visitors participate in folk games, Nem Con (throwing a ball through a ring for good luck), crossbow shooting, and tug of war, and art and cultural exchanges.
The Lung Tung festival contributes to strengthening community bonds, preserving the fine traditional cultural values of ethnic groups, and popularising the image of Than Uyen district to tourists.
Then Kin Pang Festival
The Then Kin Pang Festival is held annually on the 10th day of the third lunar month in Khong Lao commune in Phong Tho district. It’s a traditional event of the White Thai ethnic people and features several unique and attractive cultural events. Thousands of people flock to the locality to join the festival on the day.
The Then Kin Pang festival plays a significant role in the spiritual lives of the Thai ethnic people and is an occasion for local people to express their wishes for a peaceful life, good health, and abundant crops, among other things.
The legend of the White Thai ethnic people tells the story of the God of Heaven sending the “Then” deities down to the mortal world to become ordinary people in order to save mankind. Those who were sick were given medicine by Then. Anyone facing misfortune or bad luck would have Then’s blessings to overcome their difficulties.
“Then” also serves as a representative who prays to the divine spirits in the heavens for the well-being of the people, bringing good weather and abundant harvests, and ensuring the happiness and prosperity of the local community.
During the festival, the Lu Lieng – Lu Huong (those blessed by Then) offer their gratitude to “Then” through offerings.
The Then altar is elaborately decorated with colourful ornaments. The flowers are the main offerings as they are considered the symbol of the Then Kin Pang festival.
Offerings include a boiled pig, two boiled roosters, eggs, black sticky rice, and white silver.
In addition to the offerings dedicated to “Then” and Then Kin Pang, there is always a feast to express gratitude to those who have contributed to establishing and protecting the village.
The Then Kin Pang festival also offers a meeting opportunity for local men and women. After the festival, many couples get married.
The Then Kin Pang festival consists of two parts – an incense offering ceremony and a festive time featuring various special activities, folk games, and dances of the ethnic Thai people.
The festival contributes to boosting the spiritual lives of local people and raises the sense of responsibility among different generations in preserving and promoting Vietnam’s cultural heritage. It also offers a chance for ethnic minority groups to exchange culture and promote the great national unity bloc.
Nang Han Festival
The Nang Han Festival, which is to honour the female hero Nang Han, who helped the White Thai people repel foreign invaders, is celebrated annually on the 15th day of the second lunar month in Muong So commune, Phong Tho district.
The festival is also to pray for good weather, prosperity, bumper crops, and peace for local residents.
According to the legend of the local Thai community, Nang Han was the daughter of a poor Thai family in Chieng Sa (now Muong So commune). She disguised herself as a man and rallied strong young men of the village to fight invaders. She led the uprising of the people from the 16 Thai areas to defeat invaders in the north.
After defeating the enemy, she bathed in Tay An well (in Muong So commune) and then returned to heaven. In remembrance of her contributions, the local community built a temple to worship her and organised the Nang Han festival at the relic site.
The Nang Han festival includes six ceremonial rituals called “Tung song to”, “Phai Le to”, “Tha Oc”, “Tha Hu No”, “Then Hau Phet” and “Quat Bo Heo”, conducted by priests. Notably, the festival features 32 folk dances of Thai people.
During the festival, villagers gather in front of the Nang Han temple to watch traditional singing and dancing performances. The shamans conduct outdoor rituals. Offerings to Nang Han include fruits, sticky rice and chickens, and silver paper from the Thai community. After the rituals, local women in the dance troupe perform traditional folk songs praising their homeland, love, and the hero’s contributions.
Festive activities feature folk games such as tug of war, “nem con” (“con”’ throwing), “day gay” (stick pushing), and a contest to catch fish in a stream.
Thai people’s traditional dishes such as three-colour sticky rice, grilled fish, and grilled moss are also introduced during the festival.
Kin Lau Khau Mau Festival
Kin Lau Khau Mau (new rice) festival of White Thai ethnic people in Phong Tho district takes place every year in late Autumn in Muong So field.
During the festival, locals pray for good health, favourable weather, bumper crops, and prosperity. The festival also offers an opportunity for all ethnic groups in Lai Chau province to exchange culture and promote the great national solidarity bloc, making contributions to building Vietnamese culture and a unique cultural identity.
Several rituals are held during the festival, including a rice procession, pounding young rice, praying for peace and good fortune, and worshiping the Gods.
Following the rituals, the Thai people and visitors take part in folk games like tug-of-war and traditional dances such as “Nhay Sap” (bamboo pole dance) and Xoe dancing.
The ceremony of green rice pounding to pray for peace attracts crowds of tourists to experience.
Young green rice is roasted over a low-heat fire and stirred constantly until the grains crack and become fragrant. This is an important step that determines the deliciousness of rice. After pounding, young rice flakes are wrapped in green “dong” leaves to retain their softness and fragrance.
Phong Tho district is now home to 11 ethnic groups, with the Thai people accounting for over 20%.
The district has carried out an array of measures over the years to protect the ethnic culture, through preserving eight traditional festivals of the Dao, Thai, and H’Mong people. It has also urged local residents to preserve their traditional culture in tandem with tourism development.
Han Khuong Festival
The Han Khuong festival of the Thai people was held in the eleventh lunar month each year, after the harvest.
It is a unique form of traditional cultural activities, handed down through many generations of the Thai people in the Northwest, and is recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Han Khuong means the stage, which is constructed outdoor; it can be square or rectangular in shape with an area of 15-20 sq.m. The stage is 1.2-1.5m from the ground with a bamboo floor and surrounded by lattice bamboo bars.
In the middle of the floor, there is a bamboo tree with leaves intact at the top and decorated with colourful fake animals called “Lach xay chinh”. It also consists of a kitchen fire in the centre.
The Thai people consider Han Khuong a dating place with love songs by Thai boys and girls, which is an ancient cultural activity of Thai people.
At four corners, there are four colorfully decorated small Neu poles called Lac Xay. The floor is called “San hoa Han Khuong”. The hostess named “Xao Ton Khuong” is often a beautiful and kind-hearted girl whom everybody likes and who can communicate well and sing beautifully. Four girls standing at four places with stairs are called “Xao Lac Xay”. They make cotton strings, put ladders near kitchen fire, and hang strings in front of the stairs. If boys want to go to the stage, they have to win the girls in a singing contest, and then sing to be invited to sit down and drink tea.
Han Khuong is not only the place for singing where young people meet each other, it is also the place to discuss and exchange ideas of the community. The festival also contributes to teaching young people about the traditions of Thai people in Lai Chau./.