The Dao Thanh Y organize a peace worshiping ceremony in each of the 4 seasons of the year. A ceremony consists of 13 rituals involving martial arts performances. On today’s “Colorful Vietnam, Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups”, Thanh Nga examines the peace worshiping ceremony of the Dao Thanh Y in Bang Ca commune, Hoanh Bo district, Quang Ninh province.
A drum performance called Toong Tru begins peace worshiping ceremony. Young Dao men display their strength through martial arts moves. Matriarch Ly Van Ut of hamlet 2 told us that on top of all the hard work they do all year round, the Dao Thanh Y regularly practice martial arts to protect their village.
The drum performance is followed by a Tortoise dance to the rhythm of gongs. A man wearing a long, red ceremonial robe and headscarf represents the Tortoise Genie. He holds a sword in his mouth and crawls in 4 directions to eliminate disasters and bring luck to the whole village. Villager Dang Thanh Luong describes the ritual.“The tortoise has many patterns on its shell. The Dao imitate the patterns on tortoise shells to decorate their costumes and utensils. The designs have existed in our culture for a long time. The tortoise can live about 200 years. Honoring the tortoise means we honor our culture and longevity."
The tortoise dance is followed by a Dragon dance performed by 4 men and 4 women. The men wear long, red robes embroidered with dragons and phoenixes. The women wear indigo dresses and hold two red and black ribbons. The gongs are beat in a rapid rhythm and the performers dance to the gongs. They throw the ribbons up and down and fan them out to represent dragons spitting streams of water. The Dao Thanh Y consider the dragon a symbol of luck and prosperity. When a drought strikes, the dragons appear and make rain to water the fields. Matriarch Ly Van Ut said: “The dragon dance prays for water for farming. The dragons spit streams of water to help the people. We may have 4, 6, 8, or 10 dancers. The dancers jump high as the dragons fly to the water.”
A rooster dance and offering is part of the ceremony to invite the Phoenix Genie to earth. 3 men hold the legs of 3 roosters and dance around to the rhythm of gongs. The roosters’ beaks point downward as phoenixes peck insects to protect the crops. Mr. Ut again: "Three men hold three roosters and portray phoenixes from the sky helping the Dao people catch insects. At the end, the men clasp hands and pray to each of the four directions. Finally, the phoenixes fly to the sky."
Each ritual is accompanied by songs about time, space, and meaning of the dance. The female singers are carefully selected by the shaman. Shaman Dang Van Thuong said: “Each dance has its song. The song for the tortoise dance says that the tortoise lives for hundreds of years and will bless people with health and longevity. The dragon song is about the dragon watering the fields to make bumper crops. The commencing song recalls the period of land reclamation and prays to the land genie and the Dao’s progenitor.”
The shaman sits still and whispers the pray from the beginning to the end of the ceremony so softly that no one around him can hear. A Dao legend says a Genie came to earth from Heaven to teach people how to worship. He taught one group after another. When he came to the Dao Thanh Y group, he was too old to speak up and could only whisper. That’s why all Dao Thanh Y shamans whisper the pray.
The Dao Thanh Y hold a peace worshiping ceremony at the beginning of every season, but the ceremony on January 1 is the most important. They pray for good health and good weather throughout the year.