Roóng Poọc Festival: Cultural heritage of Sa Pa
Roóng Poọc Festival: Cultural heritage of Sa Pa
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Roóng Poọc is an annual festival of the Giay ethnic group in Northern Vietnam. It is held at the end of January in the lunar calendar as a goodbye to Tet holiday. This festival marks the beginning of a new year of farming and production. It also expresses aspiration of the Giay to wish for peace, prosperity and health by worshiping the Land Genie (Thổ địa). Rooc Pooc can also be called “going out to the paddy field” festival (Xuống đồng).
The elderly shared that this festival had been held ever since Giay people inhabited Ta Van Giay village, Ta Van commune, Sa Pa district (Lao Cai). For hundred years, Roóng Poọc Festival has always been organized on Thìn day (dragon day) of January every year. The ethinic groups in Northern Vietnam live by the lunar calendar so sometimes their ways of calculating day and month can be quite confusing.
Preparation for Roóng Poọc Festival
The preparation for Roóng Poọc Festival is carried out carefully and thoughtfully by the whole community of Giay people. It includes rituals of making colorful fabric balls (quả còn) and cutting the Tet pole tree (cây nêu).
The fabric balls will be hand-made by 5 virgins that are carefully selected by the village. On the other hand, the Tet pole tree will be picked and cut down by young men, and then get brought back to the celebration area. This is a tricky task as the Tet pole tree must not touch the ground at all cost. If it touches the ground, the tree will lose its sacredness.
The head of the village is often an old and wise man. He will be in charge of making and decorating solar and lunar rings to hang on the Tet pole tree. The 2 main colors of these 2 rings are red and blue. Red is for the solar ring while the lunar ring is in blue. The combination of the 2 colors symbolizes yin and yang existing in harmony. Before the Tet pole tree stands tall on the ground, the host of the Roóng Poọc Festival will tie the 2 rings to the top of this pole. After that, everyone will be waiting patiently until Thìn hour to start the Festival.
In the culture of Giay people, the Pí Le trumpet has always been a sacred instrument that represents their spiritual life. In Roóng Poọc Festival, the team playing Pí Le trumpet has a vital role in the ritual of welcoming the festival host, the head of the village and the offerings to the Jade Emperor, the gods and Mother Nature. While welcoming these people and offerings, the trumpet team will play joyful and complementary melodies to raise the atmosphere. They also play for most of the time during the festival so participants can dance and sing along.
The festival host will bring the tray full of offerings to the place where they plan to grow the Tet pole to carry out a ritual. This ritual is to ask permission from the Gods to bury the pole and start the Roóng Poọc festival. He will then face the sunrise direction and signal the head of the village to start performing the rituals to the Gods. The festival host will cast the yin and yang divination sticks (made from wood). If one is head and the other is tail, it will be understood as the Gods’ permission and blessings. Money paper will be burnt as offerings.
Young men will bury the pole down in a correct way. The solar ring on the pole needs to face East while the lunar ring has to face West. There will be an additional pole made for the fabric balls called còn tree (cây còn). This add-on pole will also be buried next to the Tet pole, then get its top bend down to tie with the solar and lunar rings.
The festival host will then cast one more turn of divination sticks to see if the Gods have arrived or not. If one is head and the other is tail, the Gods are here and ready to join the festival. If not, the festival host will continue to cast the sticks until the head-tail result is achieved.
During Roóng Poọc Festival
The festival host will invite the village’s elderly people to come ahead. They will be separated into 2 rows, each row has 4 people. The fabric balls that have been approved by Gods will be given to them. Then, they will throw the balls 3 times respectively. The goal is to toss the lunar ring on the Tet pole.
After, the young men and women of the village will join throwing the fabric balls to each other through the solar and lunar rings. As the balls represent masculinity, every time it goes through the rings people will celebrate.
They believe that this act symbolizes the harmony of yin yang, resulting in abundant crops to harvest. Every time a ball goes through the ring, the head of the village will also throw out seeds. The seeds are considered as sacred, and they will bring fortune and prosperity in the upcoming farming season. Therefore, all villagers will try to rob these seeds as they seek for blessings.
Cây còn is a symbol of the sacred paddy tree, representing the harmony of yin and yang, sky and land where everything can interbreed and grow. This explains why the pole needs to face east which is a direction of the beginning and proliferation.
Besides, there are also other activities such as singing and dancing along folk songs in the bustling atmosphere. Folk games, especially tug of war, are the favorite activities of Roóng Poọc Festival. In tug of war, the Giay people use a 20-(or 30)-meter line made of rattan or twine. One point faces east while the other one faces west. After the game ends, two healthy and strong buffaloes will plow the playing area. This activity symbolizes the beginning of the upcoming farming season.
Cultural meaning of Roóng Poọc Festival
Roóng Poọc Festival of Giay people reflects their wish of a peaceful and prosperous life. Each activity in the festival is a symbol of their traditional beliefs and spiritual life which are rooted back from thousand years ago. Roóng Poọc Festival can be considered as an agriculture festival, reflecting the ancient history of farming and production of Giay people including fertility worship, polytheism, sun worship etc.
In terms of cultural meaning, the festival is both historical and humane. Roóng Poọc Festival is a community cultural activity worshipping nature by the art of language and folk performances. Today, this festival is still widely practiced. In 2013, the Minister of Culture and Sports. and Tourism awarded the Roóng Poọc Festival as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage.