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Official Gazette

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

New rice offering rite of the Raglai

Updated: 10:00’ - 21/02/2012

Ta Thi Tam
Ethnology Institute

The Raglai, also called Ra Glay, Hai, Noana or La Vang, is a Malayo-Polynesian language group living mostly in Ninh Thuan central province with a population of over 122,000.

As indigenous inhabitants of the southern central region, the Raglai lives mainly on agriculture and thus has farming-related beliefs. The group believes every creature or object has a spirit so their farming activities cannot avoid supervision from gods. Raglai people have different rites dedicated to gods and deities, one of which is the new rice offering, showing the group’s desire for good harvest.

In the first lunar month every year, the Raglai holds this ceremony in the home of the clan head (popur) to offer new rice to ancestors and gods and escort the rice goddess home. The rite also seeks support from ancestors and gods for favorable weather and bumper crops throughout the year. The ceremony consists of two parts: offering at home and offering in the field.

Offering at home

The ritual starts at sunset and is conducted at two altars. The first, called wine jar altar, is set up in the middle of the house, facing the western entrance door. The altar is made from two small trees covered with banana leaves. On the trees, which are around one meter away from each other, are hung two bunches of amaranth flowers, which symbolize the rice plant, a stalk for drinking ruou can (rice wine drunk from a jar) and gai yak (supernatural stick made of shining black rattan), which is regarded as the clan’s heirloom. On the altar are a big jar and a small jar of ruou can, a jug, a bowl of water and an aloe incense-burning cup, all put on a broad banana leaf.

Commencing the rite, the sorcerer raises the bowl of water above the smoke of burning incense and recites incantations, inviting the gods of mountain and forest and ancestors to return home for the ceremony. The ceremony is conducted to the sounds of Raglai musical instruments, including three gongs hung from a bamboo frame, drums with drumheads made of buffalo or wild animal hide and khen bau (a pan-pipe consisting of seven bamboo tubes of different lengths stuck on a dried gourd shell). After reciting incantations, the sorcerer uses cakaow (a tobacco pipe-shaped brass ladle) to pour the water from the bowl into the big jar of ruou can three times and then takes the mixture of ruou can and water from the jar into the jug through the stalk. The host then pours ruou can mixed with water into the bowl and seven cups for offering onto the second altar - the ancestor altar.

The ancestor altar is set up at the house’s eastern wall opposite the wine jar altar. The altar has two parts. The upper is for worshiping heaven on which are a bowl of ruou can, a plate of betel and areca with a lighting wax candle, and two bunches of bamboo flowers at the two sides symbolizing two maize plants. Below the altar’s upper part are hung Raglai traditional costumes, including headgears worn by Cham women when going out. The lower part of the altar is for worshiping ancestors that have received padhi atuw (a leave-the-grave rite conducted for a dead person to see him off to the other world and mark the end of his relation with the living). In Raglai belief, only when receiving padhi atuw can the spirit of the dead be saved and meet his ancestors in the other world. Offerings for those having received padhi atuw are placed on a square wooden tray while the ones for those not having received this rite are placed on banana leaves.

After the offering rite to ancestors, the host places a tray of offerings on the wine jar altar, which contains three cups of wine and two bowls of rice and one-fourth of a boiled egg. The sorcerer recites incantations to invite gods to the sounds of gong, pan-pipe and drum. He then offers the host wine and puts some rice from the bowl into the cups of wine and pours the wine onto the offering tray, implying the offering is completed.

After that, the sorcerer invites a man and a woman of the clan to eat the rice and drink wine on the offering tray. The man puts stalks into the big jar and invites clan members to share ruou can.

Finishing the offering at the wine jar altar, the sorcerer puts off his ritual costume and waves it above the incense smoke, saying the ancestor worshiping rite is completed. He then offers wine to musical instrument players.

Then comes a dancing performance dedicated to gods and ancestors. Dancers include four men wearing white skirts and white headdresses with two ends raised above their ears, and four women in colorful blouses, Cham brocade skirts and neckerchiefs with two ends falling down their chests. They dance around the wine jar altar counterclockwise, sometimes shouting loudly. The head and women members of the clan kowtow in front of the ancestor altar. Closing the dancing performance, the sorcerer offers wine to the leading dancer and other clan members. Then another formality, playing ma la (a brass musical instrument of the Raglai similar to gong), is conducted by an elderly person of the clan. After that, two other elderly people play traditional tunes. Finishing the offering ceremony at home, clan members and guests drink ruou can and play ma la till midnight.

Offering in the field

The next day, the clan makes another offering in the field, an important formality of the new rice offering ceremony. Before the rite, women torrefy and bray newly harvested rice into powder and prepare some other offerings. Men fell bamboo to make cay neu (new-year tree). The 7m-high cay neu is tied from the foot to the top with 20 bunches of pink-dyed bong tre (flower-shaped bamboo tapes made from young bamboo) which symbolize paddy. On the top of cay neu are stuck with two bamboo funnels which symbolize the places where the rice goddess and deities stay. Also on the top of cay neu is a bamboo string twisted into 90 circles of around 25 cm in diameter with one end stuck with a sheaf of rice kept by  a hawk both of which are made of bamboo. When cay neu is ready, the host kills a chicken right at the foot of cay neu and applies its blood to the bamboo sheaf of rice and hawk.

Then comes again an offering rite at the ancestor altar which is set up on a bamboo frame in the northeastern corner of the clan head’s house. On the altar, the place for keeping the clan’s precious objects, are three bamboo baskets two of them containing bowls, cups and brass pots and trays and the other containing worshiping stuff, a big basket for accommodating the rice goddess and two rattan rods. Ritual offerings are a jar of ruou can, two glazed terra-cotta jugs, a plate of meat, a bowl of wine and a bowl of water, all put on banana leaves. After praying, the sorcerer takes some meat, rice and wine and put them into the jugs one of which will be brought to the field for the offering rite and left there for three days before it is put onto the ancestor altar.

Before carrying cay neu to the field for the offering rite, wine and ruou can are poured at its foot, which means feeding the tree. Cay neu is then turned round four times, implying it parts from home. In the field, cay neu is planted on a plot for growing the mother rice not far from which to the south is set up an altar for worshiping the rice goddess. The altar is a one-m2 stilt-house around 0.5 m above the ground. The roof of this house is two broad banana leaves and a piece of brocade cloth made by the Cham. Offerings include 10 strings of beads, a chicken, a dish of rice powder, betel and areca, two bowls of rice one of which containing boiled chicken blood, a bowl of paddy, two feathers of the sacrificed chicken and the jug of offerings taken from the ancestor altar, which is stuck with a lighting wax candle. All the offerings are put on a broad banana leaf. After the rite, participants escort the rice goddess home. Three days later, they conduct a small rite to bring home the jug of offerings and put it on the ancestor altar.-


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