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The Sacrifice to Phi Muong

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 mine.

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 from.

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 three spirits.

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. (fn. 4)

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.

--- 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.(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.

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