Op Pra Pa festival in Central Highlands

The M’Nong ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands do not celebrate Tet at the beginning of lunar January but sometime in the middle of lunar December.

Man playing gong to welcome New Year in the Central Highlands (Photo: SGGP)

They ring in the New Year with the Op Pra Pa festival which is the M’Nong’s biggest event of the year and usually takes place when the red Kao gur flowers blossom in the mountains, the Ho-top birds begin to chirp, the Bo Lang trees in the home yards bud and the rice harvesting has been completed.

The festival does not take place on any fixed day but depends entirely on the village patriarch who decides on the day in consultation with other villagers.

The scale of the Tet celebrations depends each year on the scale of the harvest of crops during the year.

The households harvesting over 100 backpacks of rice normally get the honor of slaughtering a cow or buffalo for worship to the Gods. Whilst, those harvesting less than 100 backpacks (1 backpack of rice is 25 kilograms) will get the honor of slaughtering chickens or pigs.

Preparations for the Op Pra Pa festival starts with young men of the village going to hunt wild beasts in the forest. If they kill small animals like fox or java mouse-deer they keep the meat for their own homes but if they kill a larger animal like wild boar or deer, they are expected to share this with the entire village.

The festival is incomplete without Ruou Can, a wine drunk out of a jar through pipes. Villagers begin to prepare the wine a few months ahead of Tet. They love to have wine feasts and play the gongs all night.

The M’Nong people celebrate Tet without marking a calendar. After the annual harvest season they know that a year has passed and it is time for Tet festivities.

To commemorate the festival, the village patriarch walks the mountain terrain playing a wind instrument called O Let used only during the festival to invite the Rice God and other gods and ancestors to attend the festival.

After slaughtering chicken and livestock for worship, people dip a bamboo stick in the blood of the animal and draw symbols on their altar, in the kitchen, on doorsteps, on the columns of their homes, in rice barns and on the Bo Lang tree root in front of each house.

While drawing symbols of squares, circles, crosses and triangles with blood, they spray some blood towards heaven wishing for a prosperous new year and a bumper harvest.

The Tet feast usually consists of grilled meat and fish accompanied with Lam Rice cooked in bamboo-tubes. They also enjoy a Canh Thut soup, cooked in young bamboo-tubes stirred with a stick in an up and down movement.

Op Pra Pa festival is also a chance for young people to declare their love to one another. Each couple meets under the shade of the Bo Lang or Konia tree expressing their love by playing wind music on the O Vao flute.

During the US invasion, revolutionary soldiers and the M’Nong people lived together and this was how the M’Nong people gradually understood the traditional New Year festival of the Viet people.

Every year, after celebrating the Op Pra Pa festival, several M’Nong living near the army garrisons take chicken, vegetables and fruits to soldiers living away from home and unable to celebrate New Year with their families.

By Brigadier Phung Dinh Am – Translated by Hai Mien

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