New rice ceremony of the Thai
For the Thai, an ethnic group living mainly on wet rice cultivation, the new rice ceremony is one of the biggest ceremonies in the year.

>>Wedding rituals of the Thai

>>Hair washing ceremony of the Thai

>>Rules and conventions of the Thai ethnic minority

Ta Thi Tam

Ethnology Institute

For the Thai, an ethnic group living mainly on wet rice cultivation, the new rice ceremony is one of the biggest ceremonies in the year.

Held in December after harvesting time, the rite, called khau mo, marks the end of a production cycle and opens a new one.

Khau mo, which is held for a day within a clan, is a chance for a family line to offer new rice to gods and its ancestors, praying for their support for good health, peace and prosperity for all family members. It is also an occasion for family gathering.

Usually, brothers of a family line will host khau mo in turn. Khau mo is not necessarily held on a fixed date but on a good one decided by the hosting family.

The ceremony starts with the hostess who wears a red or yellow flower-patterned costume, a silver bracelet and a brocade bag containing jewelry and two wild boar tusks at the bottom, standing in front of the family altar, inviting ancestors to the ceremony. She then climbs a ladder to take bunches of ripe rice from the story below the ceiling and places them on a bamboo bed. Family members then carry the rice from the stilt-house downstairs, purposely taking four or five rests while doing this, which implies that the family has yielded a lot of rice


New rice ritual of the Thai (Nghia Lo town, Yen Bai province)__Photo: Internet

The hostess then husks and pounds the rice and dyes it with different colors, using traditional plants like saffron or black sticky rice. After being dyed, rice is cooked into a colorful dish as an offering for khau mo.

Another indispensable offering of khau mo is sour salted fish, a meticulous dish which is prepared months before the rite. On the date of the rite, the hostess mixes the salted fish with rice flour and wraps them in banana leaves tied with bamboo strings. The number of bamboo strings must be odd according to the Thai custom. The number of bamboo strings also shows the social ranks of family lines: the higher the number, the higher rank the family line. For example, 9 strings are for the aristocratic Ha Cong family, 7 strings for the Ha Van, and 5 or 3 for families of lower ranks.

Other offerings of khau mo include a jar of ruou can (rice wine drunk through stalks), a big grilled fish and dried meat of wild animals mixed with sliced banana flower. The Thai never kills domestic animals for offering. The group’s legend tells that in the old time when humans and animals understood their languages, a Thai couple planned to kill their hen to make offering to ancestors. The hen heard this plan and tearfully said last farewells to her chicks. The chicks sobbed at the sad news. Learning this, the couple decided not to kill the hen.

After being prepared, khau mo offerings are put on a tray placed on the floor in front of the altar. Khau mo is conducted by a sorcerer who stands near the ruou can jar with one foot on a chair and the other on the floor, inviting the ancestors to the ceremony. With a fan in one hand and a stalk for drinking ruou can in the other, the sorcerer recites prayers which tell the tale of the Thai’s hardship to make rice, from reclaiming land, building irrigation to growing and harvesting rice. While the sorcerer is praying, girls demonstrate the act of pounding rice with pestles at the house gable. Closing the praying formality, the host kowtows in front of the altar to show his respect and sincerity towards gods and ancestors and ask for their support for his family, clan and village.

Before all members of the clan have a feast together, the hostess brings some fish and rice for domestic animals, especially the buffalo which directly helps make the crop. This act shows the Thai’s gratitude toward the animals as well as their wish for the animals’ well-being. Each farming tool also has some sticky rice and meat hung on it.

While having the feast where children are favored to eat first and have good food, family members drink ruou can and have responsive singing all day long. After the party, young people go to the forest or down the stream in groups or couple, picking up forest fruits or chatting. This is an important community activity of the ceremony showing feeling and aspiration of young people.-

back to top