La Ha is an ethnic minority group living along the Da river in the northern mountainous provinces of Son La and Lai Chau. Despite social changes, the La Ha have maintained their traditional customs and festivals. The ‘Pang A’ or luck prayer festival reflects the La Ha’s typical culture.
When bamboo shoots begin to sprout from the earth and bauhinia blossoms open up on hillsides, La Ha people in Na Tay hamlet organize the Pang A festival to pray for good harvests, health, and luck, and thank the genies and shamans for protecting and curing the villagers. They believe that shamans are mediators between genies and people on earth.
Local authorities and people of other villages are invited to the festival. Lo Van Phang of Na Tay hamlet said “The Pang A festival is an age-old tradition. But it’s not an annual festival. We celebrate it when we have a bumper crop. We pray for good health and luck for all villagers.”
The host prepares 2 pigs for the ritual. Adopted children of the shaman bring chicken, ducks, rice wine, glutinous rice, and fruit to the festival. The ritual is held in the main hall of the shaman’s house. In the center of the room, they erect a bamboo tree, a banana tree, and a sugar cane, from which they hang bamboo-woven items such as birds, animals, and flowers.
The shaman reads the prayer to invite ancestors and genies of land, forest, and river to attend the ritual, witness their sincerity, and bless the people with peace, prosperity, and bumper crops.
When the shaman finishes praying, his adopted children present their offerings on the table for the genies. Finally, the offerings are shared among the people attending the ceremony.
After the ritual, villagers celebrate by feasting, dancing, and singing. The festival is also a chance for young people to make friends and find romance.
Quang Van Chung of Na Tay hamlet says “Only after worshiping the genies, are people allowed to sing and dance. People from other villages join the festival and enhance solidarity. Many people have met their husbands or wives here.”