The Muong in Hoa Binh worship their ancestors and practice polytheism. Shamans are respected people who perform religious rituals for families and the community. The Muong consider shamans messengers of the gods.
There are about 300 male shamans in Hoa Binh province. Shamans have an important role in the spiritual life of the Muong. They need a good memory to remember hundreds of religious songs, an emotive voice, and acting ability. They have to act to suit the ceremonial situation and project their voice in solemn, mysterious, or sorrowful tones. The meaningful words show respect for the spirits and move the living. Shaman Bui Van Lung of Tan Lac district says: “Shaman is usually a family career. A shaman must be an honest, kind, and well-spoken man. My hamlet has several young and old shamans. In the past they learned worshiping songs by ear. Now the songs have been transcribed and documented.”
Charles Robequain, a French folklorist, says the Muong in Hoa Binh and Thanh Hoa are famous for having the best, most respected shamans. They uphold the mysterious, old customs of the Muong.
The shamans must have a knowledge of ancient documents and many of them have old books about the group’s customs and rituals. They have a special ability to communicate with and persuade the supernatural forces to protect people. They also instruct people how to behave appropriately with the gods, and teach their group’s traditions and the law of life. Shaman Lung again: “The Muong have several worshiping songs for different cases such as for worshiping inside or outside the house, for worshiping the house genie or the kitchen genie. A worshiping song lasts at least an hour. The song to the land genie goes: “ Today we prepare a feast in the last days of the year. We invite you to enjoy meat, sticky rice, and alcohol. The old year is passing and the new year is approaching. We pray for good production to have many pigs and chickens.”
The Muong pray to the community guardian and the forest genie to bring them peace and food. They worship genies to open a new house, begin a new planting season, harvest a crop, cure sick people, organize a wedding, and see the deceased off to heaven. The shamans help villagers feel secure and spiritually motivate them to overcome life difficulties, live towards kindness, and understand traditional customs.
Bui Van Tua in Tan Lac says the Muong give special importance to the year-end worshiping to inform their ancestors of events during the year and invite them to the family gathering to welcome the new year. “The shaman is an important man. He helps us to pray and worship because we cannot read some parts of the ancient books. We prepare an offering and worship on the last day of the old year but we invite a shaman to conduct the New Year ceremony. He speaks the shaman language for about an hour.”
Bui Thi Bien of Phong Phu commune says the shaman worshiping song is a spiritual remedy of the Muong. "We must have a shaman to host the worshiping and our prayers will be efficacious. The shamans do nothing harmful to the villagers."