The new rice ceremony is the biggest event of the Raglai to thank the heaven God, genies as well as their ancestors for blessing them with a bumper crop. The ceremony is held in the 3rd or 4th lunar month.
The Raglai, also called Ra Glay, Hai, Noana or La Vang, is a Malayo-Polynesian language group living mostly in Ninh Thuan central province with a population of over 122,000.
At the new rice ceremony, people welcome the Heaven God or the rice soul from the terraced fields to celebrate Tet with them and pray them for a better new year. Old Raglai people say the time-honored ritual shows their gratitude toward the rice soul for reproduction and food.
The Raglai people depend greatly on agricultural production and the new rice ceremony is an indispensable ritual in their life. They pray the genies for favorable weather and good harvest. A ceremony is organized for the extended family to show their gratitude to other villagers for helping them grow and harvest rice.
Men make a Neu tree and repair their stilt house and altar to welcome their ancestors while women prepare an offering which must include chicken, rice, corn, betel leaves, areca nuts, and alcohol. The shaman practices the ritual under the Neu tree, which is considered the house of the rice soul. He thanks the Heaven God for blessing people with good health and sufficient food and invites the god to enjoy the offerings.
After praying, all family members drink the offering wine together as a gift from god for good health and happiness. The 7m-high cay neu is tied from the foot to the top with 20 bunches of pink-dyed bong tre (flower-shaped bamboo tapes made from young bamboo) which symbolize paddy. On the top of cay neu are stuck with two bamboo funnels which symbolize the places where the rice goddess and deities stay. Also on the top of cay neu is a bamboo string twisted into 90 circles of around 25 cm in diameter with one end stuck with a sheaf of rice kept by a hawk both of which are made of bamboo. When cay neu is ready, the host kills a chicken right at the foot of cay neu and applies its blood to the bamboo sheaf of rice and hawk.
The festival follows the worshiping ceremony. The man puts stalks into the big jar and invites clan members to share ruou can. People drink wine from vases, sing, and play Ma La gongs through the night. Each family organizes a ceremony and invites all the villagers to join. They pray for good results in whatever they grow. We show our gratitude to our ancestors and they give us food.
The ceremony encourages all villagers to make beautiful Neu trees, cook rice in bamboo tubes, distill wine in vases, compete at shooting a crossbow, and play musical instruments, and for relatives to get together and resolve all their differences.
The Raglai people have several ceremonies relating to the life cycle of a man or a tree. They believe that there are several genies in nature and the heaven god, the supernatural power, is the rice soul who influences production and people’s life.