New home celebration of Lu people
Celebrating a new home is an important ritual for the Lu, a Tay-Thai language group living in the northern mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien and Lao Cai with a population of 5,600.

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Ta Thi Tam

Ethnology Institute

Celebrating a new home is an important ritual for the Lu, a Tay-Thai language group living in the northern mountainous provinces of Lai Chau, Dien Bien and Lao Cai with a population of 5,600.

The Lu lives in a stilt house with four thatch roofs which are extended to be eaves, making the house airy and spacious. The house with a stair facing the east has two stoves, one for cooking daily meals and the other for boiling water for guests.

To build a house, the Lu has to prepare wood and other materials between two and four years earlier. The home owner has to ask for the help of young villagers to take wood in forests far away from the village. During trips to take forest wood, these young men are accompanied by the home owner who brings rice and meat to prepare meals for them.

After having enough building materials, the home owner will ask a sorcerer to conduct a rite to choose the direction and site to build his home, which is relatively complex. A bamboo stake is driven deep into the selected land lot around which are put between nine and fourteen rice seeds in an order arranged by the sorcerer. Each rice seed symbolizes a thing in the life of the family, including health, cultivation, livestock and so on. A bowl is put upside down over the bamboo stake and the rice seeds for one night. Early the next morning, the sorcerer will conclude if the land is good by seeing the movement of the rice seeds. If not, this rite must be conducted again until a good land lot is found. The Lu believes a family’s home must face a mountain to enjoy a peaceful and prosperous life.

The family owner then chooses a date for building his home which must match his year of birth. The Lu community has a high sense of mutual assistance so a house is built rather quickly with the help of villagers. Before moving into the new home, the owner will conduct the celebration ceremony which is not supposed to be held at noon. Invited to this rite, villagers will each give the home owner a present including a chicken egg and some rice.

In this ceremony, the family prepares a tray of offerings to its ancestors. The offerings include a bottle of wine and five cups, a bowl of rice husk with two chicken eggs on it, two rectangular pieces of red and white cloth which must be made by the home owner’s wife, a bowl of rice on which are four silver bracelets, and a kerosene lamp. After five men who are invited by the home owner earlier recite prayers in front of the family altar, four cups of wine are poured in the four corners of the house, which symbolizes the gods’ recognition of the new home and their protection for the family. The home owner then fires a gunshot, informing villagers of his moving into the new home. Then appears at the stairway the house owner with a sweep net on his shoulder and his wife carrying a cooking tripod and a steaming pot. The husband enters the house followed by his wife, putting their stuff down. Next comes a young girl carrying a vase of water who is followed by another girl holding two bamboo torches. The first girl uses water she brings to put out the fire of one torch. The second girl enters the house and sets a fire in the family stove with the other burning torch. This fire must be kept burning for three days and nights in the belief that it will bring in warmth for the family. The formality to put out the fire and concurrently keep it burning shows the Lu’s view on both the danger and value of fire to human.

Then two men who carry pans, stoves and rice enter the house, followed by a group bringing furniture, symbolizing the family’s moving into its new home.

After that, villagers bring presents to the family and join the home owner in preparing a party with such dishes as sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, pork fried with herbs, sauce made from herbs, chilly, scallion and a sour fruit, sour rare pork, bamboo shoot fried with pig viscera and rice wine. Before having this meal with villagers, the home owner offers it to the family ancestors. After reciting each prayer, the home owner pours some wine on the floor. The praying rite is completed when the home owner pours out the third cup of wine. After that, the home owner’s younger brother thanks the guests for attending the ceremony and invites them to the party during which the home owner offers two cups of wine to each builder of his house.

Next is a formality to make holes in the roof to free the smoke from the kitchen, a symbolic act to drive out evil spirits and set free the dreams of people living inside the house, which are shown in the prayers of this rite: “On behalf of your home owner who cannot go anywhere, smoke, please do not stay inside the house, fly outside, following persons who can fly, following knowledgeable persons, following animals in the forest and staying in the air for thousands of years.” After praying, the home owner and another person with a stick in their hands sit next to the stove, singing the song dedicated to the kitchen god and using the sticks to make holes in the roof. They then throw rice from an offering tray of rice and eggs with a number equal to the number of the month when the home ceremony is conducted in the cheer of attending villagers. After throwing rice for five times, the home owner gives the eggs to the persons who have made holes in the roof and prepared the meal. This formality closes the new home celebration ceremony to the joy of the home owner and villagers.

A Lu home has taleo, a kind of talisman to exorcize evil spirits, which is hung in the four corners of the house. Visiting a Lu home, a stranger must notice sleeping places of family members where he is not supposed to enter because such act is believed to prevent the family spirits from supporting family members. Once this happens, the home owner must make an offering of two chickens as an apology to the family spirits.-

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