|Worship paintings on the altar of the Dao
When the Dao finish building a new house, they immediately set up an ancestral altar. The dedication ritual is held at midnight. The altar is placed in a corner of the central room, in front of the sleeping-room.
The altar platform has 4 firm legs, which follows an old story about the four pillars that hold up the sky.
The home owner prepares an incense burner, ashes, some silver coins, and offerings. A shaman is invited to conduct the ritual. Each month on the 1st and the 15th day, the home owner burns on the altar incense sticks and two pieces of charcoal that symbolize ancestral eyes. He also burns incense at the foot of the altar and at the front door.
“When the Dao Khau build a new house, we invite a shaman to set up an altar. He calls the souls of our ancestors to enter the incense burner so the children can worship them. The ancestors bless their children with good health and prosperity. In the incense burner, we put ashes of a special tree and some silver coins,” said Cheo My Lai of the Dao Khau in Sin Ho township.
All wooden parts of the altars are connected by hinges and tenons and tied with rattan ropes. It’s prohibited to use iron nails.
“The altar is placed in a corner of the central room. During the Lunar New Year, we always put a pork serving on the altar. We place a bowl of fresh water everyday and burn incense sticks and candles throughout the holiday. Red cloths are hung around the altar to invite blessings. We make round sticky rice cakes for the Lunar New Year celebration and put on the altar 4 pieces of cake to represent the 4 seasons. On the first day of the new year, we put apricot and peach blossoms on the cakes as a wish for many daughters and sons,” said Ly Troi Nhan, a Red Dao man who lives in Phin Ho, Hoang Su Phi district, Ha Giang province.
The altar has two floors and a roof. The ancestral incense burner is placed on the upper floor. The lower floor holds incense sticks and worship items such as yin-yang coins, wood blocks, and written prayers.
The Dao Tien decorate their altars with paper animals to wish for reproduction and for the sun to brighten the whole family.
Ban Van Liem, a Dao Tien man who lives in Van Ho district, Son La province, said, “On the upper floor we put the incense burner, a bowl of water, and 4 cups of wine. We put other worship items on the lower floor. During the New Year celebration, the worship offerings include pork, chicken, fish, rice cakes, and a coin to wish for a prosperous New Year.”
Worshiping is a sacred activity which is done only by the home owner. Only men are allowed to come close to the altar and to clean it. They worship during the Lunar New Year festival, the Grave Visiting festival in the 12th lunar month, and other events throughout the year to show their gratitude to their ancestors and pray for blessings.