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Masks in religious rites of the Dao

The Dao comprise two groups, who speak the Mien and Mun dialects. In religious rites of the Mun group, there are always Ka Dong men wearing masks with two horns. 

They are mysterious men representing deities in the Dao rituals.

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Ka Dong men are invited from the forest to attend rituals such as the Maturity ceremony and the Welcoming a new born baby ceremony. Their clothes are in tatters.

Each man has a bag, a crossbow, and an ugly mask. During their history of migration, the Dao often encountered wild animals, demons, ghosts, and natural disasters that harmed people in the community, so they started wearing ugly masks so the demons would not annoy them.

The Ka Dong mask is carefully crafted. Each Dao village has one or two Ka Dong masks which only certain people are allowed to touch or wear. The wooden mask has horns, hair, and a beard.

Doctor Ban Tuan Nang of the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics said, “The Maturity ceremony of the Dao Mun must have a Ka Dong. Well-spoken men, who have profound knowledge and good martial art skills, are chosen to play the Ka Dong. Ka Dong dances tell stories.”

A Maturity ceremony for boys of the Long-shirt Dao in Quan Ba district, Ha Giang province, must have two Ka Dong to portray a husband and wife. The Ka Dong couple dance around the boy to chase away bad luck and evil.

They give the boy food and water and tell him that from now on he is recognized as a mature member of the clan. He must be good and kind to people and honor his filial duty.

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The Ka Dong masks of the Dao Mun group

Folklorist Phan Sao Quang of Quyet Tien commune, said, “A Dao person has three names. The first name is given to the child three days after birth. The second is a registered name. And the third is given after a Maturity ceremony."

"A Ka Dong is considered a deity. Wood to make the Ka Dong mask is taken from a tree in the deep forest. Masks are decorated with animal fur and colored paper. My family has a Ka Dong mask which has been used by 7 generations.”

The Dao Tuyen in Phong Tho district, Lai Chau province, always invite Ka Dong to ceremonies to chase away bad luck.

A ceremony to pray for a child is held during the day. A homeowner prepares an offering on the altar before the shaman comes to conduct a ritual to invite ancestors and deities to the ceremony.

A second shaman dressed as a Ka Dong appears to represent a deity. He goes to wealthy families in the village who have healthy children and a happy life and asks them to share their good luck with the couple who want to have a child. Symbols of good luck are rice, eggs, and cash.

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Wooden Ka Dong masks are decorated with color paper.

Ly Quang Minh of Phong Tho town, Lai Chau province, said, “The men chosen to wear Ka Dong masks must know the ritual dances very well. They must be healthy and have a happy family. A Ka Dong visits families and rings a bell to inform the family that he has come to pray for good luck.”

Ka Dong dances imitate daily activities such as ploughing field, sowing seeds, and harvesting. VOV


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