Every march, when the climate is dry and trees lack water, Lo Lo ethnic people in Meo Vac, Ha Giang province rely on a rain praying festival. With typical rituals, the festival, handed down from generation to generation, is also an opportunity to meet one another.
The rain praying festival is often held on lunar March 15, 17 or 19. It is only organised when the weather is harsh or drought appears. Previously, rich people in villages used to pay for the cost of the festival but nowadays each villager contributes an item to the festival. Objects, including a chicken, a dog or a kilogram of rice are taken to the house of a sorcerer or village chief.
To have a successful rain praying festival, the first procedure that cannot be avoided is to organize a ceremony to ask ancestral sorcerers for aid. Mr Lo Si Pao, Sang Pa A village’s chief in Meo Vac town said, that if ancestral sorcerers do not agree, it will not rain even if you pray.
The procedure is quite easy, including a cup of water, incense and bamboo paper (a kind of papers that is used for sacrifices of the Lo Lo people). First of all, the sorcerer burns incense at the family ancestor’s altar and then, the cup of water and the paper are placed at a house corner. After that, the sorcerer starts worshipping. He covers the water cup with the bamboo paper; if the water in the cup is not absorbed or poured out of the cup, “permission is granted” and then, the rain praying festival will be successful. Finally, the sorcerer burns the bamboo paper and the procedure is completed.
The Lo Lo ethnic people believe that after organising the festival within three to nine days, it will rain. Sorcerer Lo Si Pao recalls 20 years ago when they suffered severe drought, maize trees in the whole region died because of the drought. At that time, he was the village chief. He encouraged villagers, even including the Mong ethnic minority people, to contribute offerings to organise a rain praying festival. Initially, the Mong ethnic people did not believe but then they also agreed. Suddenly, when the prayers had only just finished, and the villagers were yet to return home, it poured down. The villagers were very happy, danced, sang and celebrated jubilantly.
Mr Lo Si Pao is now nearly 60 years old. He is the only Lo Lo person in Sang Pa A who can remember all the rituals of a rain praying ceremony.
The place where the festival takes place is often a large and high ground next to a rice field. Praying objects must consist of maize alcohol, a dog, a chicken, a sword, a bowl of water, four cups of alcohol, four bamboo pipes of incense symbolising four haven directions.
Girls prepare make-up and traditional costumes of the Lo Lo and bring musical instruments to the festival. Boys are responsible for preparing the items. Musical instruments for the festival are bronze drums and two-stringed instruments. The bronze drums of the Lo Lo used for the festival are now displayed at the museum so only the two-stringed instrument is used.
The rain pray is divided into two parts: the ritual and the festival. The ritual is made with the participation of villagers. Live objects such as dogs and chicken will be taken to the praying place and worshipped twice. After being used for worshipping for the first time, village’s boys will slaughter them and use the meat for worshipping again.
When the worship finishes, villagers group to drink the alcohol, eat the meat and dance. Beautiful Lo Lo girls dance in their traditional costumes weaved with colourful patterns.
Mr Thao Hong Son, secretary of Meo Vac Party Committee said: “the rain praying festival is a typical cultural activity bearing unique characteristics. The festival is an opportunity for villagers to pray for luck and show their faith in God. Mr Son said, in 2007, Meo Vac district is expected to build a cultural and tourist village to preserve and develop culture of Lo Lo ethnic minority group. The rain praying festival of the Lo Lo people in Sin Cai village with different characteristics from the Lo Lo people in Meo Vac town is expected to be preserved.