When the rainy season comes and water fills the streams and the trees bud, the Ma hold a ceremony to thank the Forest Genie.

Nguyen Huy Cao of the Center for Culture, Communications, and Sports of Cat Tien district says the Thanksgiving ritual has been performed since the ancestors of the Ma settled here. The offering of a sacrificial animal and the playing of gongs continue today.

The Thanksgiving ritual can be performed by a family or by the community. A community Thanksgiving is held when the village has suffered a severe flood or drought or when someone has died while working in the forest.

“The scale of the ceremony depends on the financial situation. For a community ceremony, people may prepare a buffalo. A rich family may also prepare a buffalo, while a family of 2 or 3 generations may prepare a pig or a goat. The sacrificial animal can be any four-legged animal or even a chicken,” explains Cao.

Meanwhile, according to Dieu Cac Khu of Ngo hamlet, Cat Tien township, the Ma pray for sufficiency, prosperity, and peace at the Thanksgiving for the Forest Genie.

“Worshipping helps the villagers avoid disease and illness. We will be protected when we go to the forest or the mountain. We ask the Forest and Mountain Genies to bless all the villagers, not just ourselves,” says Khu.

The Thanksgiving for the Forest Genie is not just a spiritual ritual. It’s also a cultural event involving all families and villagers.

K Ban of Ngo hamlet says: “All villagers, both men and women, join the preparation. We make glutinous rice in bamboo tubes, steamed glutinous rice, and pork dishes. We have a small offering inside the house and a party outside the house. If one family cannot afford it, other villagers contribute chicken or pork.”

A Neu bamboo tree is an important element of the ritual because the Ma believe that genies sit in the Neu tree to enjoy the offering. Where there are Neu trees, there are genies. The Ma install a Neu bamboo tree in the house and a very tall one in the yard.

“The Neu tree is a medium for humans to contact genies. The Heaven God enters the house via a Neu tree. He sits in the Neu tree in the house to eat and drink liquor. The sacrificial animal is tied to the Neu tree in the yard,” says Cao.

The Neu bamboo tree is fixed firmly in the ground and 8 cords are tied to it and stretched in the 8 directions of the sky.

Cao further elaborates, “The Neu tree is the most sacred item of the Ma. It represents the house pillar, the rice grain, and the mortar and pestle which are closely associated with the agricultural culture of ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, including the Ma.”

The master of the ceremony welcomes the guests and then boys and girls play gongs and perform folk dances.

The Thanksgiving for the Forest Genie tightens community bonds and helps preserve the Ma culture.