What do more than 90 million Viets have in common? They love to celebrate! Recorded with a mosaic of 54 recognized ethnicity groups, the Vietnamese calendar is chock-full of festivals of nearly eight thousand, ranging from respective, to joyous, to bizarre (quirky even).
Long Tong Festival
The enticing Northwest is a melting pot between Vietnam, Laos, and China, where ethnic minorities have carved a colorful existence out of the heavily timbered mountains. To all the party-loving souls out there desiring to learn the cross-cultural identities of the ethnic minority groups inhabiting the mountainous Northwest, helloVietnam invites you to join Long Tong Festival. Packed with sacredness and entertainment, this festival promises a full-on cultural immersion.
Getting to know Long Tong Festival
Lồng Tồng, or the festival of going down to the field as it has come to be known, is the most unique and quintessential cultural practice of the Tay and many other ethnic minorities living across Northwest Vietnam. It is dedicated to the gods of agriculture, mountains, and streams, as well as Tutelary Deity, who are believed to watch over and bring fertility to the fields, gardens, cattle, and village.
The celebration of Long Tong aims to pray for fine weather and a bumper crop, featuring an array of festive activities with a general theme of fertility (the concept of Yin and Yang). To encourage interactions not only within Tay communities but also between the Tay and other ethnic groups, Long Tong is celebrated annually from the 2nd to the 30th of Lunar January, depending on the area.
The celebration of Long Tong Festival
Although each village and ethnic group celebrates Long Tong with slight variations, a uniform structure is to be followed, which comprises ritual and spectacle. Visit a local Tay’s house and you will be met with a festive and jolly atmosphere of family members rushing to tidy their house and prepare for the rituals. Everyone is warmly welcomed to the house, even strangers.
Let’s take a brief walk with helloVietnam tour operator and uncover the story behind this festival!
A splendid feast
Each participating household makes a contribution by preparing a splendid feast, subtly showcasing the skilled hands of housewives. A feast typically consists of glutinous rice (red and yellow, symbolizing the Sun and the Moon, as well as yin and yang), rice wine, a boiled chicken, fresh fruits, che lam (sweetened porridge made from ground glutinous rice), and a multitude of cakes including khau sli (puffed rice coated with a layer of roasted peanuts), sla cao (truncated cone-shaped cookies made of rice flour), Day cakes (pounded glutinous rice), etc.
In some large-scale festivals, the ritual master performs a sacrificial ritual of ‘Tam sinh’, which includes a triad of buffalo-pig-chicken, or pig-goat-chicken.
1. Asking permission from ancestors and the Jade Emperor
A series of rites are performed early in the morning at the hands of a Thại Đinh, starting from their home. They are the ones who look after the communal house and take care of all of the worshipping of the God of agriculture in the village.
Praying for safety and peace
After assembling the ancestral altar with offerings, the ritual’s master asks for permission and blessings from their ancestors and the Jade Emperor. They wish for health, longevity, prosperity, and fertility to people, cattle, and crops.
2. Asking permission from Tutelary Deity
Multiple rites are performed at a spacious, flat pasture on the field, or in the communal house’s yard. It starts with a gratitude ritual in honor of Heaven and Earth, and is followed by a ritual to acquire salvation and merits of fine weather, fertility, and a life of peace and plenty from Tutelary Deity, as well as the Gods of agriculture, soil, and the mountain.
To solicit an affirmative sign that their offerings and prayers have been accepted by the deities, the master of the ritual tosses two yin-yang coins (three times at max). ‘Yang’ indicates the head and ‘yin’ indicates the tail:
- If the result is one head and one tail at the first throw, it’s a good sign which represents balance and harmony.
- If both are tails, it means negation from the superior.
- If both are heads, it means the superior are laughing, it could either be out of amusement or out of rage. The best outcome is two heads at the first throw and one head and one tail at the second.
Villagers are only allowed to give their offerings to Tutelary Deity and the God of agriculture once they have received permission.
3. Ritual of going down to the field
Plowing out the first strip
This symbolic ritual is a very important attribute of Long Tong, emulating the wish for a bumper crop. A strong and highly respected man is designated to plow out the first strips, symbolizing a year of bumper crops.
The end of the rituals marks the beginning of all the fun, which is also the most anticipated part.
A family making a feast out of their own produce
Along with the exhilarating sound of drums, love and happiness also start to fill the air. A procession marches from the communal house to the field – where the feasts are being laid out. Households whose feasts appeal to more people are considered to receive more luck in the new year. In some places, the elderly are specially invited to enjoy the feast and give the family blessings, accompanied by young men and ladies singing and dancing.
Offerings from every household
It is true that nothing brings different cultures closer together than songs, dances, and games. Regardless of your ethnicity, nationality, or religion, you are all united by the contagious positive vibes emitted from every participant.
A wide range of festive activities take place, catering to everyone’s tastes and skills:
- Games and competitions: Aside from traditional games like playing chess, swinging, tug-of-war, and delicacy competitions, Ném còn (throwing gaily-decorated balls) is the most exciting activity out of all. To play the game, participants throw the ball through a ring (50-60cm in diameter, decorated with colorful paper) placed on top of a tall bamboo tree (20-30m) stripped of its leaves and branches.
- Singing performances: The soothing and heart-felt Luon singing (a type of duet singing of the Tay), Sli singing, and Then singing are the most fervently received activities, with an emphasis placed on love, blessings, and celebration of the coming spring. Notably, singing also acts as a matchmaker, bridging the gap between the two souls.
- Dancing: Lion dancing, dragon dancing, martial arts performances, etc.
Kick off the New Year the right way by traveling with helloVietnam to join Long Tong Festival for a fun-filled cultural exploration!
The significance of Long Tong Festival
Recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012, Long Tong is considered a ‘living museum’, depicting the spiritual life and the crucial significance of agriculture in the multi-ethnic society here.
Dancing in Long Tong Festival
Long Tong Festival is equal to Tet (the Vietnamese Lunar New Year) in spirit. It features an intersection of the cultural heritage of the Tay, Nung, and other ethnic groups, encompassing rites, folklore (ancient myths and legends), folk arts (Then, Sli, Luon Tunes, etc.), and folk games. Sketching a comprehensive and candid picture of their daily life, the festival has become an essential cultural practice in the communities after a year of hard work.
Celebrating Long Tong offers an occasion for reunions and rejuvenation. It is time to shake off negativity and surround yourself with positivity, as well as dissipate worldly concerns and strive for serenity. Long Tong, thereby, serves as a reminder to future generations of how important it is to show gratitude and remembrance to the almighty deities and their ancestors.
Echoing through the ages, Long Tong has become a legacy etched on the minds and embroidered in the hearts of many generations of ethnic people in the northwest mountainous region.
Every rite and custom displayed through the duration of the festival walks you through the history of the given ethnicity. It acts as the sacred convergence of the past and present, as well as individuality and community. As a result, Long Tong ignites a feeling of patriotism and humanity, promotes community spirit, and brings hidden values of the village’s cultural characteristics to the surface.