Pa Then ethnic group has only about 6.000 people. In spite of their small population and remote residence, they still maintain many ancient festivals and customs, including fire dancing festival.
Fire dancing festival of Pa Then people (living mainly in Ha Giang Province) is annually held after harvest time. It usually starts from mid-October to the 15th day of January in lunar calendar.
In spiritual life, Pa Then people believe that they are always protected from danger, misfortune and supported by the gods. When severe winter weather comes, the fire will bring them warmth and happiness of a bumper crop as well as dispel evil spirits and illness.
To start the fire dancing festival, a shaman must worship ancestors and ask the god of fire and water for permission. Some men set a big fire and the shaman begins the ceremonies.
The ceremonies last 30 to 40 minutes before the festival. A group of young men sit in front of him waiting for “souls” to enter their bodies.
After that, the men stretch their bodies and jump into the fire. They can dance and even use their hands to touch burning charcoals or put hot coal into their mouth. Each one dances for 3 to 4 minutes or several times to show their strength and courage.
“When I’m sitting, my body suddenly feels shaking, When I jump into the fire, I feel very relieved so I can hold the hot charcoal, walk on it without feeling painful”, said Tan Van Than, one of the fire dancers from Tan Lap Commune in Ha Giang Province.
The festival becomes more and more vibrant. Spectators can also participate in the fire dancing after being permitted by the shaman.
“In this festival, only Pa Then men can get the way to jump into the fire. If a woman took part in dancing, she would dance for 7 days and 7 nights without stopping” said Mr. Nguyen Van Ha, Culture & Information Manager of Bac Quang, Ha Giang.
Young men show their bare foots that only look black, without burns . Women and children standing around cheering with admiring eyes.
They dance passionately until the charcoal goes out and the shaman finishes the festival mantra. Everyone looks so happy and full of excitement. After a year of working hard in the fields, this is the time to drive away the ghosts and to pray for health and prosperity. This festival has become an indispensable tradition in the religious life of Pa Then ethnic group.