After harvesting and stockpiling grain, the Ma hold a ceremony to thank the Jade Emperor for blessing them with a bumper crop and to pray for sufficiency in the coming seasons. It is the community’s happiest and most important event.
Nguyen Huy Cao, a cultural official in Cat Tien district, Lam Dong province, has studied the ceremony in Ma hamlets. “The worship offering must include a buffalo. They deem it necessary to offer the Jade Emperor whatever they eat so he will protect their village and bless them with health, peace, and prosperity.”
The Ma are polytheists. They sacrifice animals as offerings to the Jade Emperor and to a number of genies. The ceremony is always a happy occasion for the villagers to relax and enjoy themselves.
Dieu Kboi of Bu Ja Rah hamlet said, “In December all families store grain in papooses and report the number of papooses to the village chief. If the village has 1,000 papooses, the village chief will sell half to buy a buffalo for the new rice ceremony.”
The ceremony is held at the communal house or at the village chief’s house. All the villagers get involved in the preparation. The women are in charge of cooking, decorating the houses, and preparing their best clothes. The men catch fish, help the women with the cooking, and prepare the worship offerings.
When guests from other villages arrive, the hosts welcome them with rice powder and alcohol, which is part of a protocol to prevent evil from entering the village.
The night before the ceremony, hosts and guests dance and sing to the musical accompaniment of gongs and other musical instruments. The next day, they gather at the communal house to watch the village chief perform rituals which include reading a sacrifice oration to send the buffalo to the Jade Emperor. The “remaining” beef is then shared among the villagers and guests.
Researcher Dieu Kboi said, “The festival feast includes glutinous rice and vegetable soup. The men drink alcohol with the village chief and talk about how to boost their production. This year they could afford a buffalo, but they hope the Jade Emperor will help them afford two buffalos next year. They encourage each other to work harder for a better crop.”
The festival is an opportunity for the villagers to meet and entertain people from nearby villages. They play gongs, dance, sing, eat food, and have papoose weaving, rice pounding, and crossbow shooting contests.