Traditional Xen Muong festival of Thai people in Dien Bien
Update: May 30, 2018
Every year when spring comes around, Thai people in the Muong Thanh valley in the northern province of Dien Bien joyfully celebrate Xen Muong, one of the group’s biggest festivals in commemoration of the founders of ‘Muong’, the land of the Thai.

‘Xen’ in Thai ethnic language means worship or festive, while ‘Muong’ means village. The festival is hosted by the village’s shaman, who is believed to convey the people’s wishes to the gods.

It is said that the festival has been observed since the 13th century by heads of villages in Muong Thanh valley. When a new village was established, the village head selected an area called ‘Dong Xen’ (Forest of Worship), which hosted annual rituals to show gratitude to the earth, the heaven and the predecessors who contributed to the fight against invaders and the construction of the village.

It also aims to pray for peace, prosperity, favourable weather, and the harmony between humanity and Mother Nature.

To start the festival, villagers prepare offerings, including a buffalo, rice and wine, to present to the ancestors and the gods. The festival includes a procession of offering trays, music and dances, sporting events, and folk games.

Researcher on Thai ethnic folk culture, Luong Thi Dai, said that the festival is celebrated annually during five days in the third or the fourth lunar month. After the rituals, participants take part in folk games such as tug of war, ‘to ma le’ (throwing seeds of the ‘ma le’ fruit), and cock fighting.

Men and women also join in the singing of duets while elders propose toasts and wish all the best to each other.

During the festival, Thai people observe some taboos of receiving strangers, grinding rice, constructing new houses, hunting, and going to forest for several days. Houses are also closed with green tree branches hung outside.

According to 66 year-old Lo Van Don from Tong Khai village, Thanh Nua commune, Dien Bien district, Xen Muong not only conveys the entire community’s aspirations to the gods but it is also a sacred festival of Thai ethnic group.

On normal days, Thai people never dare to enter the holy ‘Dong Xien’ forest to collect firewood, pick bamboo shoots, or catch honey bee swarms if they are not allowed.

However, after 1954, the festival is less practiced in Thai ethnic communities. Over the past decade, thanks to the efforts made by the provincial authorities and its cultural sector, the festival has been revived in a number of village in Muong Thanh alley.

The festival was recently recognised as a provincial historical heritage by the Dien Bien provincial People’s Committee in May this year. The local authorities have called for further research and coordination between locals and the cultural sector in building a dossier on the festival to seek Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism’s recognition as a national historical heritage.