Apachai, the western – most point of the country, is home to some hardy, extremely hospitable people with unique customs, and celebrating the New Year is special experience.
In the highlands, the air at night is thick with frost that freezes locals to the bone.
However, spending the long nights by firelight on the courtyard under roofs of homes inhabited by the Ha Nhi people is an experience of unforgettable warmth and joy.
This is a far – off place on the nation’s map with a special location, the junction of the Vietnam – China – laos border. For many generations, Apachai has been isolated because of the difficulties reaching it through tortuous roads leading form Muong Nhe District in Dien Bien Province.
The names of the palces here sound so separated and obstructed: Mu Ca, Pac Ma, and Ka Lang, from which the Da River runs into Vietnamese territory. Looking up, one would see the imposing mountain range – Giang Mo Pho – and looking down, a long way that cuts through the forest. Now, although it has been upgraded, the road is still a daunting challenge.
However, these difficult circumstances disappear into the mists that surround the place every year during the last month, for it is when the Ha Nhi minority people at this border junction area get ready to celebrate Co Nhe Cha their traditional New Year.
The time for Co Nhe Cha has never been fixed in accordance with the celebration of King People in the lowland areas. The Ha Nhi people celebrate their Tet based on the decision of the commune and the village’s patriarch. In general, it usually falls towards the end of the year, but it must be on the day of the dragon under the lunar calendar.
For most of the year, the rhythm of everyday life is slow and peaceful for the Ha Nhi people. It only becomes more boisterous when a family in the commune builds a new house. O this occasion, Ha Nhi people have the customs of throwing mud at any passer – by. Handfuls of earth are flung at strangers or acquaintances when the mud finds its target, the youngsters are filled with merriment as well as a greater happiness, because the belief is that it would bring fortune and luck to the house’s owners.
Their celebration of Tet includes sipping cup after cup of wine, and the kitchens of Ha Nhi’s hard working women never stop serving delicious. Ha Nhi people do not have sumptuous parties that are similar to people in other parts of the country but the New year parties in this highlands area is more original. The special flavor of rive wine and dishes cooked with animal tripe’s or fat fried with forest leaves makes the festival a heady and delicious event.
On Tet days, there seems to be no end to the flow of wine at gatherings to which both acquaintances and strangers are warmly welcomed. It seems to be a custom that after finishing off cup of wine, the host and the guest shake hands tightly.
Ha Nhi people maintain a merry custom that every person, before joining the party, would drink three cups of wine but hardly anybody gets drunk. All are in high spirit from the frontier solders who’ve lived in the border area for years, the “phuot” boys (trekkers) who reach this area on their motorbikes, to a female teacher from Sin Thau Primary school and the village’s elders. At these gatherings, people share their drinks, talk with passion and love just like the reunion of a family.
Since it lies far from the district center where the most furious rivers of the northwest are located, the Ha Nhi people in Apachai rarely have the chance to travel long distances. Most of the travelling is done by guests from the lowland, especially young backpackers who are drawn by the remoteness of the place and the hospitality of Apachai people.
It is not uncommon, therefore, to hear the accent of southerners at the party of the Ha Nhi children insistently asking visitors to show them the photographs taken with digital cameras. Travelers to Apachai should listen to stories from the men here who are considered “living history books” like Po Dan Sinh or Po Si Tai. Another experience is holding the hands if Ha Nhi girls during dance festivals. On tet days, after the wine parties, people tend to dance.
In the mornings, the pretty Ha Nhi girls are shy, standing behind the wooden doors, avoiding the strangers, but wear the most colorful costumes and turn into passionate mountain girls. Watch them as they dance by firelight. This kind of UN spoilt beauty is not easily seen.
This article written by Lanh Nguyen from Vietnam Heritage Travel
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