By Kaung Sithu
As various ethnics residing in Myanmar hold respective festivals in accordance with their traditions yearly, new harvest feasts are significant ones among them. At a time when harvesting of their crops, especially paddy are carried out, new harvest feasts take place in their regions.
Generally, Kachin ethnics organize new harvest feasts in December. Due to invitation to me for attending the feast, I recently went to Ywathit Village in Mohnyin Township of Kachin State.
Mohnyin Township, the residence of Kachin ethnics reside
Mohnyin Township, a residence of Kachin ethnics, sharing border with Moegaung, Shwegu, Indaw, Homalin and Hpakant townships, is located in Kachin State of northern Myanmar. Currently, Mohnyin District is formed with Mohnyin, Moegaung and Hpakant townships.
Based on the statistics released in March 2017, Mohnyin Township was constituted with two towns, nine wards and 127 villages from 37 village-tracts. The population in Mohnyin Township totalled 205,238, including 13,710 Kachin ethnic people and 74,327 Shan ethnic people.
Indawgyi Lake, the largest fresh water lake of the nation located in Mohnyin Township, is surrounded by 19 villages, Ywathit Village of which is the smallest.
There are some 300 houses in Ywathit Village from Lonsant Village-tract, 30 miles from Hopin of Mohnyin Township.
The village is more than two hours drive from Hopin by motorcycle. Red Shan, Bamar and Kachin ethnics are residing in the village with faiths in Buddhism and Christianity. Hence, the Buddhist monastery and Christian church are situated in the village where local people reside together without discrimination of religions. Red Shan and Bamar ethnics with faith in Buddhism hold new harvest feasts in line with Buddhism traditions whereas Kachin ethnics with faith in Christianity organize the same feasts in Christianity traditions.
At the new harvest feasts, Buddhists invite members of the Sangha to offer the meals made of earliest harvested paddy while Christians invite Fathers to hold the services.
New harvest feasts are held in the region after harvesting monsoon paddy on a yearly basis. Despite growing soya bean, groundnut and other vegetables in the region, local people hold the feasts on the month when paddy is harvested.
Red Shan and other Shan ethnics enjoy the ceremony to offer meals made of earliest paddy in conjunction with the New Year Festival in Ywathit Village. Meanwhile, Kachin ethnics hold the new harvest feasts at their residences individually.
Eve of new harvest feast
The Christian host must invite the Father in advance who would give blesses to residents of the village before the feast. In the evening of the eve of feast, relatives of the host and friends in the village including lads and lasses participate in cooking rice and meals to be served to the guests in the feast. They all cook meals in the residence of the host.
The new harvest feast is held with serving meals made of earliest paddy of the year to the guests.
On the eve of new harvest feast, local people carry out cooking of meals and cutting and cleaning banana leaves at the host’s residence. As participants of the feast will have rice and meals on banana leaves, rice and meals for guests must be packed with the use of leaves and kept in the baskets. The host can choose meals for the feast as he likes in addition to salad of banana bud, fried vegetables, pounded shrimp-paste and soups for the guests. One packet of rice and two or three packets of meals for each guest have to be put into the plastic bags.
Being a donation of early rice, local people use the rice, the soonest harvested from their farms in the year, for the feast.
Every household breeds pigs and chickens in Ywathit Village. They dub breeding of pigs as savings. If number of guests is larger in the donation ceremonies including the new harvest feast, the host serves the guests with pork curry.
Time of new harvest feast
In the morning, the alms made of newly harvested rice are offered to members of the Sangha at the Buddhists’ new harvest feast and then villagers are served with meals. Likewise, Christians treat the Christian fathers and guests with rice made of earliest harvested paddy and meals.
With regard to the feast of Christians, candles at the altar decorated with flowers are lit at the time when the house of host is full of guests, and the host explains the purpose of the feast. The father who led the congregation reads the excerpts from the Christian Bible and gives blesses for all to enjoy fine weather in coming year, high per-acre yield of crops, fruits of peace and stability of the community and good health conditions of families. The congregation sings Gospel Christian songs.
At the ceremony I attended as a special guest, the host and the father wore Kachin traditional costumes and put on the turbans. They helped me wear Kachin traditional turban. Some of attendances also came to the ceremony by wearing Kachin traditional costumes.
After the praying, a bamboo tumpline was given as a gift to the father. The host gave similar bags not only to the father but to special guests from far distance.
The bamboo tumpline decorated with beautiful flowers comprised one pyi of rice or a large taro, a long ginger plant, a pumpkin, packets of rice and meals, and a long envelope in which honorarium for the father was kept.
After the praying, all the guests had the rice and meals packaged by leaves served by the host family. At that time, they used foods in leaves but dishes. They all sat on the mats without using tables and chairs for having the rice and meals. This showed unity of the local people.
Kachin ethnics do not serve the guests with intoxicating brew at the new harvest feast but they give the brew to the guests at other festivals.
Although the feast hosted by individuals ended its process after serving the guests, the collective feasts continued festivities in the evening with songs and dances. Sometimes, the new harvest feast was held in conjunction with the X’mas festival, Kachin ethnic U Mar Tu explained. If so, the ceremony is crowded with large number of guests who wish to join the entertainments. Christian youths from the village have been practising the traditions by singing Gospel Christian songs of praying for the houses including the residence of host for the new harvest feast in their traditions since yore.
The knife not used to cut off and the spear not used to stab
After completion of the feast, Kachin ethnic U Mar Tu showed me Kachin traditional knife which was never used in cutting off and the spear not used in stabbing. The two stored for a long time were dirty with dust.
U Mar Tu explained that the old and faded knife and spear were invaluable. The two given by parents of the bride at the wedding reception must be tied by bamboo straps. These objects were called the knife not used to cut off and the spear not used to stab because of never using them. He had never tied these objects off.
The knife and spear are kept on the rack above the fireplace. So, they are dirty and filled with dust. But, the host shows these objects by taking pride of these objects for Kachin ethnics to the guests.
As holding ethnic traditional festivals with respective faiths since the time of their forefathers remain unchanged as intangible cultural heritages, new generations need to continuously preserve the ethnic traditions for perpetual existence. Translated by Than Tun Aung