Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lucky Water

Located in the far northwest area of Vietnam is the Lai Chau Province. We won't be going that far is right on the border with China and too far out-of-the-way for us on this trip.....but the ethnic minority called the Black Ha Nhi people who live in the Dao San Commune of Phong Tho District in Lai Chau Province have a New Year's tradition involving Lucky Water.

When the first cock crows on the Lunar New Year, the Black Ha Nhi people get up to perform a ceremony to get their lucky water. People from every house light a torch, don indigo traditional clothing and a hat or turban and leave the house alone without footwear ---- just as their ancestors have done for innumerable centuries. They each carry a special bamboo pipe in which they will collect lucky water for their household. The pipe is a section of a certain kind of bamboo. It must be three intermodes near the top of the tree. The mouth of the pipe (the small end) is sliced slantwise to make it easier for water to flow in, and the two intermodes toward the middle are broken through. This allows water to fill the entire pipe and be held in place by the third intermode forming the bottom end of the pipe.

The pipe is stored in a place in the house that prevents people from ever stepping over it. If someone did step over the bamboo pipe it would mean uncleanliness and the ancestors would penalize the family living in the home by making them sick or bringing them bad luck in business that year. The person who goes to collect the lucky water must be a married person because that means a couple, which is an even number and therefore a lucky number. According to customs, the absolute best person to collect the lucky water would be the wife of the eldest son. However, today either the wife or the husband might go to collect it.

When the person arrives at the source of water, he or she must burn incense to pray to the God of Water for plenty of water for the family and for wealth to flow in like water. Then he or she lowers the bamboo pipe into the water and allows the flowing water to flow into the pipe. The absolute best location to collect lucky water is from a steeply falling stream. On the way home the person tries not to let a single drop of water in the pipe spill out because that would mean a loss of money during the coming year. The person must go straight home without resting or stopping on the way; otherwise, their business in the coming year would not be smooth and profitable.

Every family in the village waits for their own family rooster to crow. If their rooster has died in the previous year, they must listen to the cockcrow from a neighboring house, but that would mean they would not be very lucky during the coming year. The first family in the village to obtain their lucky water is believed to have the most luck and benefits during the coming year.

When the person returns to the family home with the bamboo pipe of lucky water, the water is then boiled. It is used to make cakes or alcohol or to cook food to offer to the ancestors before the family can celebrate the New Year.

This all sounds like a bunch of superstitous nonsence but I can't see where this lucky water tradition is any more strange than our New Year's custom of eating black-eyed peas and pork for good luck during the coming year.

There are 54 distinct ethnic minority groups of people in Vietnam. Each has its own language and culture and traditions. These ethnic peoples prefer to live in their own villages or communes without intrusion by outsiders. This particular lucky water tradition is common only to the Black Ha Nhi people.

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