THE NEW YEAR FESTIVAL OF THE BLUE HMONG

IN PA CO, MAI CHAU, HOA BINH
 

The Pa Co Con village - where the blue Hmong lives - is located on the high cliff slopes of Pa Co commune, Mai Chau district, Hoa Binh province. In the winter, the fog covers all over their houses which were built with traditional low, thatched roofs. The fire is always placed in the middle of the house, being the main light source for the family because it is very low and dark inside. Nowadays, the Hmong people’s living condition has been improve, therefore the thatched roof bungalows have been replaced by the pro-cement roofs. Visiting Pa Co in spring mornings, in the mist you will see Hmong women in their beautiful traditional batik dresses. 

In recent years, the Hmong grew lots of plum trees, so in Spring the plum flowers blossom whitely on the front porches, in the gardens and on the mountains. In early mornings, the flowers are mixed with the mist, but when the Sun shines, those flowers reflect the white on the whole mountain area, that makes us feeling lost in the heaven. This is also the time for Hmong people‘s traditional New year festival.

The Blue Hmong enjoys their New Year festival very much! Their festival is one month earlier than the Kinh’s Tet and it lasts for the whole 15 days (from 30 November to 15 December Lunar calendar). According to tradition, they would enjoy their New Year on the first 4 days and then take part in other entertainment activities until the 15th. Before that, by the end of October and early of November, the women had to weave hemp, draw batik, do embroidery work to make new clothes for the family members. They also check the paddy grain in the stock and prepare cash for buying stuff for the New Year festival... Men had to do harder work: catching some fat pigs for sale or for meals, picking up a “flower cock” to pray ancestor in the Eve night, preparing wood for burning, maintaining the house.

Since November 25th onwards, the pigs are slaughtered for the feast with relatives, cousins in the family and this is the last meal of the year. This meal usually consists of corn wine, pork, white rice and vegetable soup. Depending on the condition of each family that the meat volume can be more or less, but at least each family must slaughter one pig. If they cannot eat it up then the rest meat would be chopped into smaller pieces to hang on the fire for using during the festival. They spend the last days of the old year, from 27th to 28th November for collecting the grasses for cattle and cooking bran for pigs in advance. Therefore, they do not have to do anything else during the New Year holidays.

On the last day of the old year, the preparation for the New Year is so joyful and animated. In early morning, the boisterous laughter mixed with the rice-pounding sound echo over the flank. People make rice cakes to give their relatives, neighbors as gifts expressing New Year's wishes. The white rice cakes which are wrapped by green banana leaf smell so great with fresh sticky rice taste. When eating, they use lard to fry the cake until it turns yellow then serve with pork and salt or chili sauce. This is a definitely traditional dish/gift in spring time of the Blue Hmong people.

In the evening, they will boil a “flower cock” (cock with the red crest, approximately 1kg and must be grown up), cook the new rice and chicken soup to put on the altar to worship the ancestors. They wish for good harvests, healthy and peaceful New Year. The worship tray must include: a boiled chicken with two full bowls of rice, two large bowls of soup, three large rice cakes, two cups of wine, two cups of tea and exactly two burned incenses. All of that presents for affluence and abundance. 

During the New Year's Eve, all the families have to ensure that the two candles are always lit (by lard) on the altar and the wood is on fire in the kitchen. And all the gates of the house, the buffalo cages, the pigsty and the hen-coop must be decorated by traditional paper, as a "greeting" for New Year, to wish good luck and to avoid all risks. (The Hmong people make their own paper from the bamboo in the forest, usually in September or October of the lunar calendar. This handmade paper is quite hard, with pale yellow color). Midnight is the special moment when the old year passes and the New Year comes. They will get the worship tray down to have drink and enjoy the first meal of the year. Then they sit around the fire and chat until the morning.

Like some other ethnic groups, the Blue Hmong does not clean their houses or throw garbage in the first three days of the New Year to keep the seeds not “flying out”. In the morning of the 1st, though they do not taboo the “whose first foot” custom, they still wait until 10 or 11 am before visiting other houses. They do not give money to children, instead they bring a little rice cake as a gift for them, then sit and drink with the host. Especially in the New Year days, Hmong people would not eat vegetables because according to their tradition, eating vegetables on these days will make the grass grow up more in the rice fields later. On the 1st day of the New Year the women also must not use needle or work on anything, they just enjoy the New Year and hang out for fun.

Besides the traditional rituals, the local authorities also organize a lot of folk games such as tickling games, throwing pounds, badminton with feather shuttlecock, pan-pipe dance, “con” throwing, teetotal fighting, love singing, ... at village stadium. On the new clean cement roads, groups of youth or children in their most beautiful traditional clothes are going to take part in the New Year festival. Nowadays they use motorbikes instead of riding horses as in the past. The colorful skirts are spread out like butterflies under the spring sun. 

Since 1997, Craft Link has supported the Blue Hmong in Pa Co to establish a group producing traditional handicraft products. Thus, the women in the village have earned more income to help their families to improving their living condition. At present, there are 25 official members in the group. The average additional income from handicraft is from VND 700,000 to VND 2,000,000 per month per member. With this cash, they save to send children to school, buy more things for the family such as: fish sauce, salt, rice cooker ...Especially on festival days, they can buy more clothes, candy... for children and buy new warm blankets for the whole family.

It would be great if you had a chance to experience the atmosphere of the Hmong New Year in Pa Co Commune. You will not only admire the plum and peach flowers, take photograph with the boys and girls in their most beautiful clothes, melt in the joyful atmosphere but also share the fun with Blue Hmong families.
 

For more information about this project, please contact:
 
Craft Link
51 Van Mieu, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: (84-4) 3 7336101- Fax: (84-4) 3 8437926
Email: craftlink@fpt.vn - Website: www.craftlink.com.vn