Unique ‘cap sac” ritual of San Diu ethnic minority people

Update: 15:34 | 10/04/2021

(BGO) - In their social customs and religious life, San Diu ethnic minorities in Bac Giang province still preserve ‘cap sac’ (coming-of-age) – the ritual of maturity. Passed down from generation to generation, although life has had many changes, this ritual of San Diu ethnic minority people still retains its original values.

The San Diu people in Bac Giang live mainly in the districts of Son Dong, Luc Ngan, Luc Nam, Yen The and Lang Giang. Different from the Dao ethnic group's ‘cap sac’ ritual which is to recognize the maturity of a man, for San Diu, this is an almost mandatory ritual to certify a man as a shaman.

Unique cap sac ritual, San Diu ethnic minority people, Bac Giang province, social customs, religious life, coming-of-age

Shamans dance to recruit ghost and heavenly soldiers in the ‘cap sac’ ritual of the San Diu ethnic minority people in Nghia Ho commune (Luc Ngan district).

The San Diu ethnic people think that a shaman is a person who has the ability to inform, pray and impart human aspirations to the divine world and vice versa. Therefore, most families and clans, when having funerals or weddings, invite a shaman to come to their house to practice rituals. 

The shaman is believed to have "predestined affinity", but he must learn from veteran shamans from his young age. When growing up, he must be able to read and write Chinese characters and know how to practice the traditional rituals of his own ethnic group. And in order to be accepted by the genies and to become a true shaman, he has to undergo the ‘cap sac’ ritual.

To prepare for the ritual, the homeowner has to prepare a tray of chicken and wine and invite a shaman to come to help. On the day, the homeowner invites relatives and friends to attend the ceremony, which sees the presence of nine shamans who perform different tasks. 

After the ritual, the shamans are honored to be the masters of the man who is the subject of the ‘cap sac’ ritual. During his life, the disciple must visit his masters’ houses to congratulate them and give them gifts on the occasion of the Lunar New Year. When the masters die, the disciple observes the same mourning as their children.

In the ceremony, a picture of the Jade Emperor is hung in the middle of the house, where a rice bowl is placed together with seals and command cards of the shamans. An incense-table is installed in the yard like a one-compartment house, with the picture of Tam Thanh (the three Taoist deities) hung on. Below are wine, rice and the flag of the warriors. Under the incense-table are two tied roosters to keep the table. After preparing all things necessary, the masters perform the ritual of disinfecting and safeguarding the incense-table, present petitions to the deities and offer wine, fruits and cakes to invite the deities to witness the ceremony.

The first step of the ceremony is the ritual of presenting a petition to the deities, marking the beginning of the practice of a shaman. The offering table has a yin paper, a yang paper and a petition. The masters practice rituals to invite the gods and then present these papers to tell the reason of the ceremony, ask the gods to certify the person who the subject to the ceremony. The first master guides the disciple with procedures to become a shaman. The second master controls the whole above process, while the third master certifies the man. When the man attains the Magician level, he is provided with tools to practice the rituals.

The second step is the ritual of admitting soldiers and deities from the heaven. The masters invite a thousand of soldiers and a thousand of horses, generals, gods, and masters from the heaven to attend the ceremony.

The third step is the thank-giving ceremony. The masters hold a ceremony to blow horns and dance around the incense-table with musical instruments to deliver thanks to the deities attending the ceremony. After that, the homeowner holds a ceremony to worship and thank the God of Earth.

The fourth step of the inauguration ceremony. The masters dance with flags to invite heavenly soldiers. This ceremony aims to rearrange the contingent of ghost soldiers and heavenly soldiers in preparation for the opening of the hell’s gate for the man to return safely after the inauguration.

The fifth step is the bridge-creation ceremony. The masters use the picture as a bridge between the altar worshipping Tam Thanh and the lower small table. The bridge represents the heaven and the realm and is meant to create a bridge for the deities to come to accept the ‘cap sac’ ritual.

The final step is the ceremony to take water to offer to the deities. The water can be taken from a well, a pond, a river or a stream. From the house to the water source, there must be nine sections, each marked with bamboo branches planted on the land. At the destination, a ceremony is hold to worship the God of Water to ask for permission to take water to offer to the deities. The water taken is placed on the Tam Thanh altar, the subject of the “cap sac” ceremony sits in the middle of the mat and is granted mysterious abilities, a seal, and ghost soldiers by the masters. From here, the man is certified as a mature shaman of the San Diu ethnic group.

The ‘cap sac’ ritual of the San Diu ethnic people, in addition to the religious meaning, also has high educational value as it mainly focuses on interpretation of morality and politeness; how to behave between people and between humans and nature. This value is reflected throughout the process of practicing the ritual as well as the uniqueness and magic of activities during the ceremony. It shows the beauty of culture and soul in the social customs and beliefs of an ethnic minority group in the province.

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