An ethnic group in central Vietnam has been persuaded by local authorities to cease a generations-old ritual of stabbing buffaloes to death as an offering to their ancestors.
As many as 90 villages from the Co Tu minority community in Tay Giang District in Quang Nam Province answered the call to scrap the rite during their Lunar New Year (Tet) celebrations in late January.
Though the request came from authorities, the villagers chose to abandon the ritual of their own accord, agreeing with Quang Nam authorities that the rite is no longer suitable in modern times.
Local officials involved in the effort to persuade Co Tu people away from the deep-rooted custom revealed that the key to successfully halting the ritual lay in convincing the village chiefs.
Crucial nod from village chiefs
Bh’Riu Liec, chief of the Tay Giang Party Committee, said this year was the first time that none of the 90 villages in the district held a buffalo-stabbing ritual as part of their Tet celebration.
“We have tried to persuade them to stop practicing the custom in order to prepare Tay Giang to become an ecotourism destination,” he explained.
“Such violent and bloody scenes, if maintained, will certainly drive visitors away.”
Bh’Riu Liec said that aside from barbaric nature, the custom was also a huge financial burden on villagers.
“I was once shocked to learn that a family had to stab a number of buffaloes to have enough meat to treat 200 people,” he said, adding that families often borrow bank loans worth hundreds of millions of dong to afford the rite.” (VND100 million = US$4,464)
Clau Nghi, chairman of the district’s chapter of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, said the call to stop the rite was welcomed by open-minded village chiefs who took turns in explaining to their villagers that the ritual should be ditched.
“Of course some villagers protested that a centuries-old custom could not be ended overnight, but the village heads somehow succeeded in convincing them of the need for change,” Nghi said.
One village chief, 80-year-old Clâu Nâm, admitted that “it was rather sad” that villagers refrained from the custom this past Tet.
“For generations, the buffalo stabbing rite had been practiced in front of our traditional houses, amid the cheering sounds of the gong and the beautiful dancing of the Co Tu people,” he said.
“But for our mutual goal [of the whole society] to be reached, we know that we should no longer continue a rite that is associated with blood and killing.”
Sharing this view, Clâu Blâu, the chief of the Tr’Hy village, one of the most distant Co Tu villages in Quang Nam, also said this mutual goal was behind his reasoning in asking villagers to refrain from such an ‘evil custom.’
“We still need buffalo meat for feasts and festivals, but we will slaughter them in a conventional way, instead of repeatedly stabbing them to death in public,” he explained.
In the most recent Tet celebration, Tr’Hy villagers made offerings to ancestors with chicken meat and pork and “they all felt happy doing so,” according to the village chief.
“I told villagers that they should first keep their cattle alive to help with farming,” Blâu said.
“And secondly, villagers will be able to save a lot of money when they no longer have to kill buffalo to treat everyone.”
The buffalo stabbing ritual used to be held not only on Tet, but also during other special events in Co Tu tradition. In some cases, Co Tu people also killed the cattle to make offerings to gods, praying for peace and luck for their family.
On the night before the ritual day, there is a ‘crying for buffalo’ rite, where older members of a village sit by a burning fire while the younger ones play the drum and weep for the animal before claiming its life the next morning.