Praying for rain in a parched landscape

When the summer sun is at its fiercest and all around is cracked and dried the Jrai ethnic minority in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai pray for rain.

Praying for rain in a parched landscape
Senior Jrai villagers in Rưng Ama Nin Village are dringking ruou can as part of the ritual praying for rain: VNA/VNS Photo Quang Thai 

The annual ritual is held in early June in Rưng Ama Nin Village in Ayun Pa Town, in the southeast of the province, and is painstakingly prepared by a 'special council' and attended by almost everyone in the area.

The uniqueness of the celebrations is certain to delight visitors hoping to explore the mystic traditions of the Jrai.

Preparations began at the end of May in the small yard of villager Ro Com Hkliong’s house. The village council gathered for a meeting, with selected women villagers, to discuss plans for the ceremony.

Unlike many other places, where the entire village may join in preparations for a ceremony, in Rưng Ama Nin only 12 people conduct the ritual, including the village chief, who is the chief celebrant, while two other  prestigious elders are his assistants.

The remaining nine people, including five women, carry out preparatory to the ceremony, such as providing wine, water, and other drinks, arranging decorative items, and cooking.

The members of this group, which local people call the ceremonial “council”, must never have violated the village’s rules in the past, especially what is deemed taboo. He or she should also exert a positive influence on the community.

There are certain acts that must be avoided at all costs on the day the ritual takes place, such as holding hoes or hammers or even going to work.

The offering, which is displayed for the main ritual, consists of a black boar without white spots and weighing about 20kg, and three jars of Jơbô wine.

Other items used in the ceremony include a large copper pan, five white porcelain bowls, and five bamboo straws for drinking ruou can (wine stored in a big jar and drunk through long bamboo straws). All must only be used for the ritual, not daily life.

At 9am, the ceremony began. Senior villager Ksor Hơ, who is also the chief celebrant and the host of the ceremony, slowly walked over and sat in front of three jars of wine.

Putting his hand on the first, he murmured divine vows in the Jrai language, expressing a desire to pray for good weather, particularly rain and wind, peace, food, and good health for all villagers.

The main ritual lasted about 10 minutes. The host then scooped up water from a brass bowl and poured it into the wine jars until they were all full, then used the bamboo straws to drink the wine.

 

Ksor Hơ invited Hkliơng, on whose land the ceremony was held, to drink with him. In turn, she invited the host to drink, to express her gratitude for having such an honour bestowed upon her.

A small tray of traditional food was then served. The group ate well and drank ruou can while talking among themselves.

While the southeast of Gia Lai is the province’s largest “rice bowl”, it is also associated with legends of the King of Fire and the King of Water, so praying for rain is an important ritual in the spiritual lives of the Jrai. It is an ancient tradition featuring the ethnic minority’s unique cultural characteristics, amid a sacred and solemn atmosphere of connecting with the gods.

Those who seek to explore the mysticism of the Jrai will be captivated by the act of the ritual.

Visitors can also see villagers make offerings and play musical instruments typical to the Central Highlands, such as cong chieng (gongs), and can drink wine with them as well.

There are beautifully sculpted jugs and ancient cups to admire, the aroma of the ruou can to be inhaled, and traditional brocade sets, with the dominant colours of red and black, to be tried.

Villagers also perform dances with gongs in front of the communal house, where the worshipping ceremony takes place, or explore wooden statues in the haunted space of the ceremony.

Local dishes of blue rice, grilled chicken, spring snails, and noodles are available all around.

Lai Van Minh, director of Ayun Pa Town’s Culture, Information and Sports Centre, said rituals such as praying for rain are part of the precious ethnic culture.

“In order to preserve and promote local cultural values, authorities will hold classes to teach people, especially the younger generations, how to play gongs and weave brocade, and will look at all cultural festivals, including those with great spiritual humanity, and encourage people to study and preserve them,” he said. VNS

Quang Thai

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