Xen Muong Festival – one of the biggest in the year of the Thai ethinic minority – is dedicated to deities who founded and reclaimed Muong (namely the land where the Thai is residing) praying for happiness and prosperity.
The Thai in every hamlet hold the festival with different rituals and ceremonies. For instance, the Thai in Tay Bac (the Northwestern region) organize the festival on the upstream of rivers or springs which supply water for the whole hamlet while the festival of the Black Thai in Muong Lo, Nghia Lo, Yen Bai, is carried out at the foot of the largest banyan tree in the forbidden forest where the dead lay to rest.
For the Thai in Muong Lo, it is a must to ask the sorcerer, who looks after the spiritual power of the hamlet chief, and a group of elderly people to hold the festival. Previously, the offerings for the festival included a coat of a young man belonging to the aristocratic descent. However, the Thai now replace it by the communal leaders’.
All the villagers in the Muong will contribute offerings with two or four buffalos. For the Thai in Yen Chau, Son La, white buffalos will be selected for the offering ceremony.
It is a custom that the buffalo for the festival must be chosen randomly by the sorcerer. Surprising, when he points the stick at the buffalo, it seems to be hypnotized and stands rooted to the post. Before killing the buffalo, the sorcerer both prays and presses a knife on the buffalo’s neck s witchcraft and then the sorcerer’s assistant will kill the buffalo and set up the offering altar.
The feast for the offering ceremony includes three trays of well-cooked buffalo meat, plus rice and wine. The sorcerer will pray seven times to offer genies and ancestors to attend the festival and bring happiness and prosperity to the villagers.
Besides, there is also a tray of fresh and raw buffalo head, tail, legs and thigh for the hamlet chief to offer the deities. Then, the sorcerer will cast two coins, asking the deities to accept the offerings. If the two coins have the same side up, he continues praying and tossing until they have different sides up.
When the solemn ritual finish, the sorcerer will pray once more before the invitees enjoy the offering. The hamlet chief and other dignitaries will invite the guests of each tray and eat a piece of meat and drink a sip of wine with them before returning to their own tray.
One man of each family in the hamlets is invited to attend the ceremony while women are only allowed to participate in folk games, such as dancing to the drum beats and throwing con (multi-coloured fabric ball). To prepare for the game, a con offering alter will be set up right at the foot of a 15-20m high-pole. The offerings are the same with that of the Xen Muong ritual but with hundreds of con. In the Thai’s belief, the God asks bloodsuckers in fields as well as mosquitoes and vat (forest leech) in forests to suck the blood of humans and bring it to the Heaven. They then ask for the blood back. The game attracts mainly male participants and those who throw con and hit the central point at the pole’s top will be the winner.
The Xen Muong festival also sees a fish catching game that attracts all villagers. The game reflects the solidarity and unification of the community. It is also a typical cultural feature of the Thai, expressing their wish for happiness, prosperity and sustainable society.