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Ta Thi Tam
Le cap sac (maturity ritual) is an original religious trait of the Dao, an ethnic minority group living in areas bordering Laos and China with a population of over 750,000.
The ritual is indispensable for a Dao man to become a real descendant of Ban Vuong (the forefather of the Dao), who can understand common sense and is able to meet his ancestors after his death in Duong Chau, the Dao’s ancestral land.
Legend had it that Dao ancestors were living in mountainous areas when devils appeared, killing people, eating livestock and destroying crops, making life truly mournful. The Jade Emperor sent heavenly fighters to earth to kill them, who, however, could not wipe out the devils because they were too many. As earthly people without magic could not defeat these devils, the Jade Emperor asked deities to pass magic to male villagers and grant them the title “sorcerer.” These sorcerers together with heavenly fighters finally killed all evil spirits. After that, the Jade Emperor gave the order to grant the sorcerer title to married men who wished to protect people from evil spirits. Le cap sac was formed since then and exists till now.
Only when passing le cap sac, a Dao man is considered to be mature. An old man who doesn’t pass this ritual has to sit with children during any important occasion.
In red Dao society, only people passing le cap sac can become family owners, village heads and worship ancestors.
A person who doesn’t pass this ritual is believed not to be able to control his spirit, which consequently will hurt the destiny of his offspring. Le cap sac is considered the “birth of a person,” the ritual in which a Dao man receives a name from the gods to be used in the other world. People passing le cap sac are believed not to be harmed by devils when they die.
Even if a Dao man doesn’t pass the ritual while he is alive, a family member must participate in the ritual on his behalf.
For these reasons, no matter how rich or poor he is, a Dao man must hold it. A Dao man usually passes le cap sac when he is between 15 and 20 years old. The ritual must be held in the order of a man’s position in the family: the father must have this ritual before his son and an older brother must do it before his younger brother.
Le cap sac is divided into three levels: three lamps, seven lamps and twelve lamps, which mean the number of lamps the person passing the ritual is granted. Those passing the rituals with seven and twelve lamps can become a sorcerer.
The time to perform le cap sac for a man must be carefully selected. A man must choose a year for this ritual suitable to his year of birth. Le cap sac is usually held in the 1st, 11th or 12th month of the lunar year. A ritual with three lamps lasts between one and three days while the one with seven lamps, between three and five days.
In a le cap sac of the first level, the person involved is granted three lamps and 36 troops while in the second and third levels, he receives seven lamps and 72 troops and twelve lamps and 120 troops respectively.
The head sorcerer conducting the ritual must be skillful. A le cap sac with three lamps needs three sorcerers and the one with seven lamps requires seven sorcerers. The head sorcerer is called chi chau sai or co tan sai and sub-sorcerers are dan chai, tinh minh, pa tan and tong tan.
The man receiving le cap sac must be conversant with the ritual’s formalities. A le cap sac can be conducted for one or several men but in an odd number.
Before going through le cap sac, a man must neither talk dirt nor have sex or love affairs.
Before a le cap sac, the family owner must offer a meal and wine to his ancestors, informing of the ritual and the time to hold it. In this offering ceremony, a pig is killed as the offering to family ancestors who are invited to the ritual by the sorcerer.
To prepare for le cap sac, the family must raise a boar and a sow as sacrifice in the ritual. It also has to prepare pigs, chickens, rice and wine to make a feast and some money to give to sorcerers. The ritual with three lamps can cost two or three pigs and tens of chickens while the one with twelve lamps can cost as many as tens of pigs and hundreds of chickens, with many servants required and a lot of work.
During le cap sac, the man involved must be properly dressed, sitting in front of the family altar, holding a bamboo stick with a wood bar piercing this stick at the height of his shoulders on which lit candles are placed throughout the ritual. Passing le cap sac, a man receives ten rules and ten prayers which have religious significance but also educational meaning.
The ten rules of le cap sac are not to answer parents back, cheat friends, kill animals arbitrarily, steal, harm others, be greedy for wealth and feminine beauty, be angry with and hurt others, disgrace the poor and favor the rich, cling to life and fear death, and hide these rules.
The ten prayers include to have immortal spirit, turn into god, reach the ancestral land in the other world and serve in the army to protect the ancestral land in the other world.
A le cap sac goes through the following steps:
* Inviting sorcerers: Sorcerers who must be conversant with prayers related to the ritual, experienced in and knowledgeable about this ritual and of the same family line with the parents of the person receiving le cap sac are invited to conduct the ritual. Between seven and nine sorcerers are invited to conduct a ceremony to sacrifice chickens to deities.
* Setting up an altar: Several hours before the ritual, sorcerers pray for support from deities through the chicken sacrifice ceremony. The head sorcerer assigns jobs to each servant involved in the ritual. After dinner, these servants beat drums and gongs before the ritual is conducted.
* Beating drums: At midnight, sorcerers beat drums and chant scriptures in front of the altar. After that, they walk three rounds clockwise to show respect for heaven.
* Inviting deities: Together with beating drums and gongs is a formality to invite to the ritual five guardian deities, namely Trieu su (who guards the east), Dang su (the south), Ma su (the west), Quan su (the north) and Ngu loi (the center).
* Taking a vegetarian meal: After beating drums and inviting the guardian deities, sorcerers invite gods to the ritual and have a vegetarian meal. The invited gods include the Jade Emperor, Ban co Dai Vuong (forefather of the Dao), gods of earth, mountain and river and Lao Tzu.
* Rising to the altar: The family owner sets up an altar two meters high on a lawn near the house. Before sunrise, the head sorcerer sits in the middle with five disciples around him chanting scriptures in drumbeats. The head sorcerer in yellow clothes puts a red bag of money and a hat on the altar, tying a red cloth round the waist of the man receiving le cap sac. After that, the disciples and other participants walk round the altar clockwise three times with a piece of paper in their hands to drive away evil spirits.
* Naming: The person receiving le cap sac uses his shirt’s laps to contain rice given from the sorcerer. The sorcerer then conducts the naming formality for the new disciple who can now participate in social activities.
In the days of the ritual, traditional dances are performed by villagers for hours to the sounds of cymbals, drums and tintinabulum, depicting historical events, farm work, house building and other daily-life activities.
Closing the ritual, sorcerers conduct a formality to thank ancestors and deities to support them in conducting le cap sac and drink wine to congratulate the man receiving le cap sac who is now regarded to be physically and spiritually mature.-