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Every spring, ethnic minority groups excitedly celebrate festivals and participate in folk games. Tug-of-war is among the folk games attracting numerous participants and crowds of supporters.
The Roong Pooc Festival of the Giay and Tay people in Ta Van Village, Sa Pa District in Lao Cai Province is held annual along Muong Hoa Spring, attracting numerous local residents and tourists.
After major rituals take place, tug-of-war is an indispensable folk game featured at the festival. Accompanied by resounding festive drums, the game always draws tremendous applause from the crowd, who excitedly cheer on the players.
According to Deputy Director of the Lao Cai Province Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Tay and Giay people in Ta Van Commune use a rattan trunk for the game, while Tay people in Bac Ha District play with a wild liana.
The difference between the two groups is also seen in the day selected to organise the game: Tay people in Bac Ha District host the game on the day of the Dragon while the other districts’ residents play on the day of the Pig.
Tay people in Bao Nhai Commune, Bac Ha District hold their game on the courtyard of Trung Do Temple and the game takes place after a fish processing ceremony. Meanwhile, other Tay villages like observing the sport on the rice fields.
Tay ethnic Meritorious Artist San Chang from Ta Van Village said that tugging is a popular folk game in the daily life of Giay and Tay people there. It is also held at their annual Going to the Field Festival in early spring as part of rituals to pray for favourable weather condition and healthy crops. The game also represents solidarity and mutual support between members in the community while symbolising unity among villages.
Tug-of-war often takes place in the morning when the sun is rising, which is believed to bring about purity and brightness. The position of players is arranged to ensure the harmony between Yin and Yang: men stand on the west side while the women are on the east.
The rope, which is selected for its durability to ensure that it will not be broken, is divided into two equal parts. The Tay people believe playing tug-of-war is a way to ‘tug’ rain into the fields so that everything can grow.
Vang A Pau from the Giay ethnic group of Ta Van Village said that tug-of-war is a game requiring good health and endurance as well as close co-ordination and solidarity from team members. It is not only a game but also a wish of the people for prosperity and peace.
The traditional tugging rituals and games in Viet Nam, along with in Cambodia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea (RoK), were officially listed in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December last year.
Tug-of-war plays an important role in the cultural life of ethnic minority groups’ communities in Lao Cai. The uniqueness of the game contributes to the indigenous cultural identity of ethnic groups in Lao Cai and Vietnamese people in general.