Ta Thi Tam
The Kho Mu, a Mon-Khmer language ethnic minority group living in the northwestern and northern central parts of the country, has various agricultural rituals which reflect the group’s farming habits.
Three days after burning off the brush on the land for cultivation, a Kho Mu family starts a ceremony to prick holes in the ground for sowing. Before the ceremony, the family owner plants a high bamboo tree in the middle of the land plot, implying that the land is occupied. Using four sticks of bamboo, he marks a square of two square meters inside the land plot as a symbolic field. In the middle of the square is set a stake with a stone on its top. The stake is also tied with a pointed bamboo cylinder which symbolizes a spear to ward off evil spirits and contains another three sharp bamboo sticks. Under the bamboo cylinder is stuck with a linga-shaped wood piece. At the foot of the stake are a bamboo spout and some small bamboo cylinders which symbolize a water source. At the corners of the square are planted four citronella grasses and four taros. Offerings of the ceremony include a boiled cock, wine, betel leaves and areca nuts, a bowl of water and two pieces of white cloth. Standing in front of the offering tray, the family owner prays for support from the gods of heaven and earth and the tutelary god of the village for favorable weather and bumper crops. After that, he pricks holes to sow seeds in his family’s land plot and then sprays water from the small bamboo cylinder around the land while murmuring incantanations. After completing these formalities, all family members go home and throw a party for their relatives and villagers that evening.
Ceremony dedicated to the rice goddess
The Kho Mu believes while the gods of heaven, earth, village and field protect the crops from disasters, pests and beasts, the rice goddess decides on the yield of the crops. Therefore, the group attaches importance to worshiping the rice goddess to win her support. The rice goddess is believed to incarnate in the mother of the family who is thus supposed to act as the rice goddess in the ceremony. Before the ceremony, which is held in September, the family sets up a small tent next to the granary built in the field. On the day of the ceremony, the family brings two jars of wine and a pig into the tent. A sorcerer conducts a ritual in front of the tent, offering the gods of heaven, earth, forest and stream the wine and the pig which is killed right after this ritual is over.
As the rice goddess, the mother of the family wears Kho Mu traditional costume with a water container in one hand and a bag containing holy objects in the other. The mother, who is supposed to keep silent throughout the ceremony, brings into the granary sticky rice and a boiled chicken as the offerings, reciting prays to invite the rice goddess to the granary. After that, family members share the offerings right in the field.
The next day, all family members go to the field for harvesting the crop. Near the field is erected a bamboo gate where the rice mother stands with a bunch of fresh leaves. Everybody goes to the field through the gate will be slightly beaten on the back by the mother with the bunch of leaves. She then goes to the symbolic square field and picks up seven rice seeds, putting them in her mouth first and then pushing them out and rubbing them on her hands before starting to harvest the rice. While acting as the rice goddess, the mother is not supposed to sing, whistle or talk dirt because such act is believed to make the rice spirit leave.
In the Kho Mu belief, rice, which represents femininity, must be in contact with taro, which represents masculinity, to grow fertile. That’s why the group often grows taro and citronella grass in the rice field. After the ceremony dedicated to the rice goddess, the rice goddess is escorted home together with a basket of taro.
New rice ceremony
An important ritual of the Kho Mu is the new rice ceremony which is held before the harvest time. The ceremony aims to offer new rice and taro to family ancestors and the home deity to win their support for the family’s happiness and health. To prepare the offerings for the ceremony, the family harvests some new rice for cooking xoi (sticky rice). Apart from sticky rice and taro, the offerings include chicken, pork, grilled fish or meat of a wild animal and a jar of ruou can (rice wine drunk out of a jar through stalks) which are placed on a tray put on the altar of the home deity and family ancestors. After praying, the family owner dips a ball of sticky rice into a bowl of chicken blood and then pastes it onto the foreheads of all family members. He then ties a white thread around the wrists of every family member. These acts aim to pray for health for all family members. After this formality, family members enjoy the offerings and sing together.
For the Kho Mu, the serpent is the symbol of the spirit of water which is believed to make rain when being irritated. The ceremony to pray for rain, which aims to infuriate the serpent, is conducted on a land lot next to the stream by a widow and village children. A pit is dug on the land lot covered by an areca spathe. In the middle of the areca spathe is a hole through which a fresh areca leaf is put to the bottom of the pit. The widow clamps the areca leaf between her legs while the children beat the areca spathe with sticks, cheering and helping the widow to pull the areca leaf which symbolizes the tail of the serpent. After that, the widow picks up the areca leaf out of the pit and jumps into the stream followed by the children.-