One of the most important feasts of the Lu is the Spring
Feast which took place on May 27th in 1937. The day before, money was collected to buy a
buffalo from one of the villagers. Everyone of the older people contributed two so us
while the younger people gave one. During the night the purchased buffalo was tethered
beneath the house belonging to the most important of the three sacrificial priests who
were going to officiate. In the morning the buffalo was led by the grown men to a sacred
glade just on the outskirts of the village, where there was a permanent altar, before
which a stout pole to bind the buffalo to had been driven into the ground. This pole was
very roughly made and was in no way ornamented or decorated.
The buffalo which is to be sacrificed is killed with a special lance. But as the Lue
are more or less faithful Buddhists no one wanted to kill the beast. Instead they hired a
Lamet to do it. But before the sacrifice could take place the spirits had to be invited to
be present. The altar consisted of a small platform some six or seven feet long with an
overhead shelter supported by two pillars. The platform was divided into three parts, one
for each of the spirits to whom the sacrifice was made and each of which had its own
celebrant. The most important spirit was Phi Muong, that is the spirit of the Muong, the
second was the spirit of the large salt mine and the third the spirit of the small salt
The three priests knelt before the altar and recited prayers to make the spirits come.
Before every prayer they sounded a gong which was hung on one of the pillars.
The sacrificial platform was covered with a bedding of fine, homewoven, patterned
cotton sheets. There were also a great many bowls that were to be filled with the
sacrifice. The three celebrants then said a prayer inviting the spirits to assist in the
sacrifice of the buffalo.
They said: "On this occasion we invite Tiao :Fa Luong (the Great Spirit of the
Heavens) who is so kind and the spirit of the great town (who was the guardian spirit of
the place of old when there were many buffaloes). We invite the Great Spirit to come and
partake." Then followed a whole row of names of different spirits.
The man who was to kill the buffalo then came forth and dancing round the buffalo three
times he raised his lance with both hands towards the heavens each time he passed the
altar. He stabbed the buffalo slightly in the side, rather carefully, and then began the
wild dance of the buffalo around the sacred pole. The buffalo is not felled immediately
but the man with the lance must wait until it has its head to the north. Not until then
can the fatal blow be given, felling the buffalo. This is considered very important as
otherwise the coming harvest would be poor. The blood is collected in some of the bowls
from the platform and the men assembled divide the buffalo quickly into twelve pieces. Why
just twelve I was not able to ascertain. The head is severed from the body and without
being flayed or having its eyes taken out or having anything done to it, hung on the tip
of the sacred pole with its nose facing north where the evil spirits are supposed to come
Immediately after this the meat is cooked in pots placed out beforehand and various
dishes are prepared from the sacrificed buffalo. There is lap, chopped meat, lap
mixed with blood from the buffalo, roast meat, etc. The bowls from the altar
are then filled with the different meat dishes, one bowlful of each dish for each of the
The three sacrificial priests kneel again before the altar and invite the three spirits
to come and eat. But before doing this they pour rice spirit over each bowl saying:
"We have cooked sa, (fn. l) sweetened and red, soup sweetened and red, (fn. 2) balls of rice
and many other dishes which we have placed on the altar and poured spirit over as an
offering to you, to the spirits which guard the villagej to the spirits of the mines, (fn. 3) to the spirits
of the rice fields and the green mountains.
We invite you to eat as much as you like of this food which we have prepared as an
offering to you."
To find out if the spirits have accepted the invitation, one of the priests carries out
a divination. He takes a few grains of rice in one hand without looking to see how many he
has taken. He then opens his hand and counts the grains. If there are an even number of
pairs up to a maximum of twelve the spirits are considered to have answered the
invitation. If there are more even pairs than twelve the spirits have not yet come. If, on
the other hand there are an uneven number of grains they are definitely not
coming, which is considered unlucky. The sacrificial priest succeeded this time; if he had
not I do not know what would have happened. If the number of grains had been an even
number over twelve, the prayer and divination could possibly have been repeated.
The assembled men began to eat and drink together. When the meal was finished, the
remaining food was taken to the village to be eaten by the women and children. They were
not allowed to take part in the sacrifice at the sacred glade.
Later in the afternoon, a couple of hours before sunset, the young people of the
village gathered on a flat piece of land by the banks of the Nam Ngao. A long piece of
rattan is brought out and there is a tug-of-war between the boys and the girls. As many as
there was room for took part and the girls' team won. The reason for this was said to be
that they had such strong legs because they remove the husks from the rice every day by
treading on a lever which pounds the rice. This was not quite correct, as I was later told
that the girls were meant to win, otherwise the harvest would be poor.
1) sa = finely minced meat mixed
with all sorts of aromatic vegetables and lemon juico.
2) red = colourod with blood.
3) In their old habitat in Ou-Neua there were two salt-mines, one with a male, the
other with a female guardian spirit.
After this, during the hour before sunset, followed the traditional ballgame which is
mentioned as occurring in so many Tai tribes. On one side stood the girls' team and on the
other side the boys'. The ball consisted of a triangular cloth bag made of many different
coloured strips of material. It was filled with rice husks and decorated with ribbon or a
fringe, also of many colours. It could easily be seen that a certain boy threw the ball so
that it could be caught by a certain girl. At this point a group of girls detached
themselves and crept behind the boys' group and stole some of their belongings. I have
observed this custom in several Tai tribes when attending their feasts but I have never
understood the meaning of this thieving in jest. Soon after sunset they all
separated but far into the night alternating songs between boys and girls could be heard.
During the day of the feast no work was done and no
stranger was allowed to enter or leave the village. On the four paths leading to the
village taZeo were placed, i.e. hexagonally plaited trays made of bamboo and
fastened to a bamboo stick. 'l'hese are the usual signs used by most of the Tai tribes in
this district and mean "no admittance". (fn. 5)
When this feast has taken place, transplanting of
the rice can begin. However, a short ceremony for the soul of the rice is held before this
takes place. Seven young rice plants are planted in a special place in the rice field. A
small platform is built by the side of them, on which flowers, candles or balls of cooked
rice are offered. Taleos are placed in the four corners. A small basket is fastened
on each taleo, in which the soul of the rice is regarded to be. Transplanting can
now begin and it is one of the main tasks of work in this district.
The object of the seven rice plants is 1) that the roots of the rice may find good
soil, 2) that the stalks of the rice will always be glad, i.e. grow upright, 3) that there
will be as many mun of rice as possible harvested (one mun is about twelve
kilo), 4) that all the rooms of the house will have many women, 5) that there will be many
cousins (the kin will be numerous and will increase), 6) that there will be many sacks of
shining gold, 7) that there will be a lot of rice in the barns.
When the transplanting is over, the seven rice plants are parcelled up in banana leaves
and put in the barn. The soul of the rice is then invited to enter. Young plants of banana
and sugar-cane, flowers and candles are laid in a basket which is placed next to the seven
rice plants and the following is said:
"To-day is a good (lucky) day and the weather is fine and all my rice fields have
been planted. Now we come with flowers and young banana and sugarcane plants and invite
you (spirit of the rice) to come and live in the barn."
4) I heard similar songs also with a group
of Lantane (a Man tribe) about the same time when passing their village.
5) A. W. MacDonald: Notes sur la clostration
villageoise dans I'Asie du sud-est, Journal Asiatique, 1957.
(fn.6) The seven rice
plants closely parallel the rice sheaf of the Lamets, which also symbolizes the spirit of
the rice and its increase in order that the harvest shall be good. The offering of young
plants of such a vigorous nature as the banana and sugar-cane is an act of magic designed
to strengthen the power of growth. Taleo are regarded as a protection against the
intrusion of evil spirits.
--- After this the seven rice plants are cut with a sickle, covered with banana leaves
and laid in the basket, on which a taleo is fastened.
This custom is very reminiscent of the one found amongst the Lamet when flowers are
used to entice and lead the spirit of the rice to the right place, that is, the barn.