A View of Ha Giang in the Golden Rice Harvest

Hoang Su Phi is one of the two western border districts of Ha Giang Province, the residence area of 13 ethnic groups such as Dao, Tay, Nung, Co Lao and La Chi.

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Every year, from late August to early September in the lunar calendar (October), the weather in the highlands turns cold and the warm rays of the sun illuminate the ripe golden rice fields, symbolizing a prosperous “golden season”. This is the occasion when the ethnic minorities in the Ha Giang highlands come together to joyously celebrate the New Rice festival.

Hoang Su Phi District, located in western Ha Giang Province, is home to 13 ethnic groups including Dao, Tay, Nung, Co Lao, and La Chi. This region boasts unique and varied traditional cultural values, particularly in the realm of agricultural rituals. Its distinctive geographical features contribute to the preservation of these cultural treasures.

A glimpse of Ha Giang during golden rice season
Hoang Su Phi preserves many unique and diverse traditional cultural values of the people of different ethnic groups, especially agricultural rituals. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh

The Dao ethnic families residing in Ho Thau Commune, Hoang Su Phi District, traditionally celebrate a festival called the “New Rice Festival” as they enter the harvest season. This festivity typically takes place between the 5th and 10th day of the 9th lunar month each year.

According to the customs observed by the Dao people of Ho Thau Commune, it is believed that the rice plant possesses a soul. Therefore, in adherence to traditional rituals, the primary objective is to bring the new rice soul back to one’s home.

The female member of the household ventures out to the rice field during the early hours of the morning to carefully prune the fully matured rice plants. These trimmed plants are then meticulously bundled up and left to dry in the vicinity of the house. Afterwards, the most sizable rice grains are hand-picked and arranged in clusters, delicately suspended from the walls of the dwelling. The remaining grains serve various purposes such as the creation of green rice, and the preparation of sticky rice intended for sacred offerings to honor ancestors and the divine.

The new rice offering ceremony holds great significance in the traditional practices of the La Chi people of Ban Phung Commune, Hoang Su Phi District. This time-honored ritual holds a special place within their culture.

Prior to the event, the host’s spouse, who holds the title of “Mother of rice”, will rise early to meticulously prepare baskets and tweezers. These tools will be used to delicately pluck the first grains of rice, which will then be cooked as a gesture of gratitude to our ancestors.

The act of selecting the initial grains of rice carries a deep symbolic significance. It represents the sacred ceremony of “receiving” the essence of the rice, as a way to invoke blessings for a prosperous and fortunate harvest for the family.

 
A glimpse of Ha Giang during golden rice season
The host’s wife will have to get up very early to pluck the first grains of rice and cook them to give thanks to the ancestors. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh

It is customary for families to offer newly harvested rice before bringing it into their home for consumption. The new rice offering ceremony is an important tradition, as it signifies respect for the rice spirit that resides on the straw. Burning the straw before this ceremony can result in the loss of crops for the following year.

The new rice offering ceremony is a significant ritual within the agricultural beliefs of the Nung ethnic group in Po Lo Commune.

The annual ritual of the ripe rice season is a cherished tradition practiced by families in August or September of the lunar calendar.

To commence the ritual, at dawn, a female member of the household goes to the rice field to carefully harvest and select the largest and newly ripened rice grains, typically of the sticky rice variety. In the event that the sticky rice has not yet reached maturity, regular rice is utilized instead. These precious rice grains are then meticulously bundled and transported back home. Subsequently, the premium quality seeds are meticulously identified and divided into two sets. These sets are then bound together and displayed on the altar, with one set positioned at each end.

Traditionally, green rice is prepared or cooked into sticky rice as an offering to ancestors, heaven, and earth. In cases where the family does not have enough new rice, they may incorporate some old rice or a few grains of new rice into a pot of sticky rice to capture the essence of new rice and present it as an offering to their ancestors.