In the Nung culture, people over 60 years old are considered elderly and their children must organize birthday or longevity ceremonies for them.
Such a ceremony shows the children’s concern for their elders’ physical and mental health. Hua Van Thanh of Trai Cai 2 hamlet said “Birthday ceremonies are the same for males and females. When children grow up and have good income, they organize birthday ceremonies for their parents to wish them happiness and longevity.”
Hong Thi Xuan, a 85-year-old Nung woman in La Doa hamlet, says that on her birthday her children gather to show their gratitude for her having given birth to them and for raising them. Birthday gifts are usually foods, such as glutinous rice cakes, pork, and chicken.
Vuong Van Toan of La Doan hamlet, said “It’s our custom to organize birthday ceremonies for elderly people to wish them good health. We choose an appropriate year to celebrate a birthday ceremony.”
The birthday ceremony includes a health and peace ritual. An important item of the ritual is a wooden stair, which has 7 steps for a man and 9 steps for a woman, symbolizing the bridge of life. A woman sings Then songs to invite ancestors and genies to come to the ritual and bless the birthday person.
The Nung believe that a man has 7 life principles and a woman has 9 life principles, which are nurtured by a rice pot in heaven. When all their life principles are strong, the person is healthy. When a person gets older, their life principles become weaker because the rice pot is being emptied. The family places a full rice pot on the altar to make the birthday person healthier.
Hoang Thi Hue, a Then singer in Cao Loc district said “During the 3-day ceremony, we cook rice and must eat it all. We don’t give any leftover rice to the animals. The ritual involves filling the rice pot to wish our parents and grandparents good health.”
The Nung’s longevity ceremony reflects their religious beliefs. The ceremony encourages children to reflect on what they have done to make their parents proud of them, which becomes the inspiration for a healthier, happier life.