About 74,000 Nung people live in Bac Giang province. They have developed a rich culture and one of their typical rituals is the longevity celebration for their grandparents and parents.

Family members prepare votive money and other offerings for the ceremony – pigs, chickens, and “red cake”, a kind of rice cake made by the children and dyed using leaves taken from the forest.

A female sorcerer, called a Then lady, is invited to conduct the ritual. To begin, she sings a traditional Then song to inform the genies of the birthday celebration and prays for the birthday person to enjoy good health and live a long, happy life with his or her children. The Then lady communicates with the genies by singing Then songs and playing a musical instrument called a Tinh. The music is thought to chase away evils.       

The Then lady sometimes pauses to burn votive paper for the genies and ask their blessing. To the tray of offerings, which contains pork, chicken, rice, wine, salt, water, and confectionary, they add some peach leaves, which they believe drives away evil spirits. After the ritual, the Then lady throws rice out of the house to demonstrate a sincere altitude.

Vi Viet Dung, a researcher of the Nung culture said “The longevity celebration is a major event in a person’s life. The Nung believe each person has a goddess to take care of his or her soul. The goddess incarnates the Then lady to witness the longevity ceremony.”

The ceremony takes all night. Mr. Dung said “Four shamans conduct the ritual that certifies a woman as a Then lady. She is then allowed to be a mediator connecting yin and yang.”

The longevity ceremony prays for good health and good luck, not for prosperity or and business success.