The stove in the Ma’s longhouse
Apr 12th 2015.
Together with Earth, Water, Air … Fire is one of the vital factors that makes life. As such, fire plays a very important role in human beings activities. For the Mạ, the fire stove is considered the soul of their stilt house.
Fire is the “god” that brings luck to people
Up to now, the longhouse of the Mạ – one of the native people in Da Lat, Lam Dong, is still the residence for many small households of paternal blood relationships. Each household living in the longhouse has its own fire stove. The number of stoves depends on the number of households in the longhouse; therefore there are 14 - 15 stoves in a longhouse. The stoves are arranged in a row in the middle, along the house.
Like other ethnic minority people in the Central Highlands, the Mạ consider Fire as an indispensable god in their spiritual life. Therefore, upon completion of construction, the first thing the owner has to do is conducting ritual fire ceremony, seeking permission to set 3 earthen tripods for fire-making.
The Mạ are very concerned about the choice of earth to make a new stone. Earth used to make molds and stove tripods must be taken from a clean, high location. The one who makes a fire is usually the most prestigious in the clan. When the sacred fire is lit in the stove, the owner of the household must keep it burning constantly the whole day and night; on the following day, if there is no cooking, the embers must be incubated under layers of ashes, so when needed, people blow the fire up in the stove; as such, the stove constantly keeps warm. For the Mạ contend that the Fire is a God that brings luck to members of families.
A space for family activities
The Mạ’s fire stove is set in rectangular or square shape; in the heart of the stove, earth is pounded firmly as a separation from the floor to prevent the fire from burning, in the middle are three terracotta circular cylinders covering the stove tripod and is used for cooking. In parallel with the stove frame about 80cm is the kitchen floor is a kitchen trellis, made of bamboo, rattan suspended at four corners, on the trellis is a large, flat basket for keeping foodstuffs and dried food such as: a string of venison, buffalo leather, fish or drilled meat … Above all is the platform used to hang dried gourds, corn seed, seed rice and other knitting items to be smoked to increase the black color and make sure things are more durable. For the Mạ, the the kitchen is not simply a place for cooking or as a fireplace, but also a space for family activities. In the evening, after dinner, people gather by the fire to warm themselves up and talk, sharing everything …The wife sits near the weaving loom to weave the blanket, the sarong or the shirt … for husband and children. Sometimes the landlord plays musical instrument to feel relaxed after a hard day’s work, or people listen to the senior citizens to talk about stories of the forests, the rice fields and the tribe… All represent the warmth and happiness of the family.
Where important rituals occur
In the Mạ’s longhouse, apart from separate kitchen for small households, in the middle part of the longhouse, where parents or grand – parents live, there is a main kitchen. The main kitchen is reserved only for reception and where important rituals of the clan occur. During important rituals such as naming ceremony, wedding, housewarming ceremony or reception of distinguished guests … all family members in the clan gather in the main kitchen and the fire is blown up. In the mysterious sound of the gong and chime, and the fragrance of Cần wine, people sing, dance in a circle around the flickered fire, and the fun can last all night.
It can be said that, the Mạ’s fire stove is always a close, inseparable thing in their life. This is the characteristic associated with daily life of the inhabitants who live in the wilderness. These unique cultural traits have been kept by the Mạ over time.
By Thanh Binh