The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rjja Nukan: Cham New Year in Vietnam

A video I took of a Cham Holy Man dancing in very special ceremonial attire which has been worn by select Cham elders for centuries.

The Kate Festival is often mistakenly called the Cham New Year. It is referred to as such in numerous guidebooks and websites, despite falling in the 7th month of the Cham lunar calendar. Perhaps this is because many Vietnamese, and even many Cham who are ignorant of their own cultural heritage, observe that Kate has the biggest celebrations of any Cham holiday, much like Tet among Vietnamese festivals, and so they wrongly assume that it must be a Cham equivalent of the Chinese New Year.

It is however, the little-known holiday of Rija Nukan, that marks the new year for the Cham people. Given that Rija Nukan falls within several weeks of the Khmer New Year, it is possible that they share a common origin, although the manner and ritual in which the two cultures now celebrate their respective  festivals, are entirely different.

Unlike the better-known Kate Festival, Rija Nukan is celebrated in Cham villages, and not in their ancient red-brick temples. The chief observance, which includes food offerings, worship, music and dancing, is held at smaller religious meeting halls in each community. This makes it difficult for outsiders—even Vietnamese—to ever observe them, because one must know the precise time (although the Cham people share their own unique calendar, each village observes at a different appointed time during the festival), the location of any given Cham villages, and the exact place of the meeting hall.

This year, Rija Nukan falls on April 20. Below are photos from previous Cham New Year celebrations, as celebrated by the Cham Balamon of South-Central Vietnam.

Cooking soup

Incantations and offerings by Cham holy men

Dressing the deity

Offerings made by Cham matriarchs on behalf of their families

Matriarch Devotees in worship

Cham Holy man or High Priest in a trance-like dance

Cham musicians and Holy men at the alter

Cham priests prepare at the altar

Eggs and Chicken are common offerings, particularly when incantations and religious rites are involved

A big spread of fruit and desert offerings

Stay tuned for my next post: Rija Nukan, Cham Bani Style.

As always, these photo, video and stories are original and copyrighted. They may not be re-published without permission from the author.

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