The Dao’s dance with devils


Spring means white man flowers cover Vietnam’s northern mountains, it also marks the time when Dao minority people hold fascinating festive activities to pray for fertile crops, prosperity and health for the New Year.

Nam An is a small village on a 1,000 meter high mountain in Ban Qua District in the northernmost province of the country, Ha Giang Province. There is a selection of different minority people living there but most are Dao. At Spring time, tourist can attend their festive activities, among which the Blessing and Fire jumping ceremony are the most interesting.

Old people said the Dao village deep in the jungle used to be frequented by devils and other dark powers. To protect them, villagers depended on a powerful man supported by sorcerers to meet the Almighty and ask him for blessings to fight against the demons. The blessing ceremony is the most important ritual that every Dao man has to take.

During the ceremony that takes about two hours, the most prestigious man, who has the most power and experience in rituals against devils in the village leads four or five sorcerers or more. They call for the Almighty to come and offer blessings for a certain man, no matter what his age. The blessing will bring him faith and power in the fight against devils, protection for his family and village against plagues and pests.

The man and his attendants wear colorful brocatelle, in red, their beautiful traditional costumes. With a sacrificed animal, the leader reads a long prayer in Chinese to call for the Almighty’s participation. The sound of the music gets louder, the men now dance in a big circle with their hands beating small Chieng, a traditional musical instrument. Finally, the rituals reach a crescendo with the fire jumping ceremony, when all the sorcerers and the newly blessed man jump bare foot into a fire and glowing coals, to prove their courage against devils.

Traditionally, the blessing ceremony could last three days with rituals, dancing, singing, drinking corn and rice wine, but it now takes only takes one day. Tourism has brought with it influences that have made many changes to the most sacred ceremony of the Dao people. Tourists on organized tours can now request a ceremony to be performed any time of year.

At the start of the ceremony, the leader of sorcerers begins with a dance to a slow beat

A dancer jumps into the burning coals – Photos: Pham Thai

 

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