The Bo Y ethnic people hold a young rice festival in the 8th lunar month every year. On the festival day, two rice blossoms are hung in front of the house as a welcome to other people to join in.
In the past, every household celebrated the festival on the same day, but now the young rice ritual is observed on different days depending on each family clan.
Mr. Phan Ngoc Duong from Quyet Tien commune, Quan Ba district, Ha Giang province, said the prayers show people’s wishes for the future and connection to their ancestors.
“Today, as we hold the young rice ritual, we would like to invite ancestors to join us. The offering has chicken, fish and shrimp, and young sticky rice. We pray the ancestors to bless us with good health, happiness and prosperity”, said Mr Duong.
The offerings for the young rice ritual are rather simple and familiar things in daily life, and fish is indispensable. The Bo Y people consider fish as a gentle animal which does not do any harm to rice but also lives in water and is held dear by the people. A dish with seafood is a must in the offering to worship the ancestors because they believe that they will be blessed with the grace of those animals.
Mr. Duong said “We worship the ancestors with fish and small fish on young rice ritual because they don’t eat rice. It’s said that if you worship the animals who eat rice, they will eat your rice all year round”.
The offering for the young rice ritual includes 5 cups of wine, 5 small bowls, and a handful of sticky rice. Each small bowl has a little young rice which is made from the best rice to worship the deities and ancestors.
The Bo Y ethnic people welcome the ancestors to attend the young rice ritual in a special way by calling their names in accordance with their date of death.
Mr. Loc Van Cao from Quyet Tien commune, Quan Ba district, said “We don’t call a dead person with their normal names but call them with names based on their dates of death and zodiac animals”.
While carrying out the ritual, the host pours wine to offer to the ancestors, and invites them to join the meal and pray for a better year. After the ritual, votive paper is burnt, and everyone can enjoy the feast.
To the surprise of many, dogs and cats are allowed to have food first. Mr. Loc Van Cao said “The Bo Y people highly appreciate dogs and cats because they help guard the house and rice barns. That’s why dogs and cats are allowed to have the food first”.
Mr. Phan Ngoc Duong said dogs play an important role in the daily life of the Bo Y people as they help maintain rice species. Legends say that in the past, rice was angry with the humans and flew up to the sky. Fortunately, a dog chased after the rice so quickly that some rice blossoms stuck to its tail, which helped maintain rice plants for the Bo Y people.
Mr. Duong said “Dogs are believed to bring good luck to your family. Dogs are faithful animals. They guard your house and according to legend maintained the rice species for the Bo Y people”.
A festival to pay gratitude to the Agricultural Genie held every 6th lunar month is another major festival of the Bo Y people in Quan Ba district, Ha Giang province. Mr. Phan Ngoc Duong from Quyet Tien commune, said: “We worship the deities who reclaimed this land . We also pray to the deities to help protect the crops from harmful insects”.
The festival is held annually with the hope for bumper crops. During the festival, a flag is erected in each paddy field to drive away rats and insects, but also showing the ownership of the paddy field.
The Bo Y ethnic people have a close relationship with the animals living around them. They also show their gratitude to buffalo and cows at this festival.
The offering for the festival includes chicken, pork, wine, incense as well as croissants, which are indispensable. Croissants are made to show people’s gratitude to cows and buffalo who help them with the farming work. The offerings are placed on a half-mater high surface in one end of the paddy field. In late afternoon, the host takes bows, chopsticks, votive papers and some chicken blood to rub it on flags erected around the paddy field. After that, he places a croissant in each bowl.
Mr. Phan Ngoc Duong further elaborates “The ritual may be carried out a little bit differently according to each family clan. My family prepares 5 cups, 5 pairs of chopsticks, 5 bowls, croissants and votive papers. After offering wine to the ancestors, I will burn votive papers. After that, I erect flags around the paddy field”.
After the ritual, the host will come back home to prepare a food tray to worship the ancestors.
This time of the year is wedding season for many ethnic groups in Vietnam.
Bo Y weddings are arranged by parents and they believe in fate in marriage. The man and the woman will have their dates of birth compared by a fortune-teller to determine if they are well-matched. Then, a matchmaker will visit the woman’s house and convey the man’s wish to marry her.
Mr. Phan Ngoc Duong of Quyet Tien commune, Quan Ba district told us “Two female matchmakers are sent to the woman’s house. The matchmakers must lead virtuous lives and have happy families”.
If the woman’s family agrees to the match, the matchmakers ask the man’s family to bring two bottles of wine, two packets of sugar, two packets of tea, and two packs of cigarettes to the woman’s house. After 3 days, if the woman’s family accepts the gifts, the man’s family locates two male matchmakers who have good health and happy families, and are able to speak smoothly and drink well: “One matchmaker will talk to the woman’s family. The other matchmaker will assist him. The two matchmakers bring two chickens, two bottles of wine, cigarettes, sugar, and some confectioneries. Two bottles of wine are placed on the altar for the ancestors”.
All the offerings are wrapped in red paper to represent good luck and fertility. When the two matchmakers arrive, the woman’s family block the door with a bench. They set out four bowls of wine and sing a call and response song to the matchmakers. If the matchmakers cannot respond to the song, they must take a drink.
Eventually, the two men are allowed to enter the house: “After the matchmakers talk to the woman’s family, a chicken is killed, signifying that both sides agree to the marriage. Then the matchmakers enjoy a meal with the woman’s family”.
Like many other ethnic groups, the Bo Y still have a custom of demanding prescribed wedding presents from the bridegroom’s family. In the past, the bride’s family asked for 120 kilos of wine, 120 kilos of rice, 120 kilos of pork and money for the bride’s mother, grandfather, and siblings. Duong said: “The two matchmakers come back and report to the man’s family the list of gifts requested by the woman’s family. If the man’s family can afford the gifts, the wedding follows immediately”.
If the bride is not old enough to get married or the man’s family cannot afford the gifts, the weddings is delayed. Each year afterward, the man’s family must send gifts to the woman’s family to show they still desire the marriage.