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Long Tong Festival: Intangible Vietnamese Cultural Heritage

Long Tong Festival is a very important event among ethnic Tay communities in the Northern Tuyen Quang Province to celebrate several things: welcome new crop; pray for favourable weather; hope for a successful harvest; and wish for good health among the people and especially the rice fields. “Long Tong” means “going to the field” in the local Tay language.

The festival usually falls between the 4th and 10th days of the first lunar month with activities like prayer rituals, traditional agricultural games and of course, eating.

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A ritual prayer signals the start of the festival. Starting at dawn and officiated by a shaman, he prays to the heaven and earth, the gods of mountains and streams, and patron deities for good harvest, health, peace and prosperity. An altar made of a three-layer bamboo shelf is set up by the villagers who also offer fruits, boiled chicken, rice seeds, corn seeds, soya seeds, white alcohol and cakes to Than Nong (God of Agriculture) and Tho Dia (God of Soil). The first layer of the altar shelf is called Thuong an where the most important offerings are placed. The second layer is called Trung an, while the third layer is called Ha an. Each layer is placed with four trays directed at the East to face Bach Than Mountain.

A procession is made before the prayer begins, the going to the field which the festival was named after in the first place. This is led by seven strong men holding and swinging branches in a belief it will drive away any bad luck. Several lion dances follow. Nine big trays of offerings are then brought placed on the heads of nine girls. Each tray is filled with cakes, boiled chicken, pork, and chicken eggs. One of the most important contents of the tray is steamed glutinous rice dyed in five colors which takes several days to prepare and the villagers themselves make.

Games are then played consisting of ploughing, singing, dragging-n, singing, dancing, cooking and shooting contests. Con throwing is the most significant game wherein three circles representing heaven, earth and mankind are hung on trees and then thrown with con. Successfully shooting the cons through the circles is believed to bring good weather and productive harvests. The young men and women are usually the ones who participate in this part, but all in all creating both a sacred and fun festivity.

Long Tong Festival is practiced not only by the Tay, but also by the Nung, Dao and San Chi ethnic groups. It was officially recognized as an “intangible cultural heritage” by the government on February 21, 2013 in a special ceremony and distinct certificate.

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