Muong

Geographical Distribution

The majority of the Muong people have their home in North Vietnam. In North Vietnam the Muong are located in the following provinces: Hoa Binh, Nghe An, Ninh Binh, Phu Tho, Son La, Thanh Hoa, Vinh Phu, Yen Bai.

Total population of Muong in these provinces is 1,228,867. In South Vietnam there are 8,703 Muong. A total 1,237,570 people. Estimated annual growth rate 2.85%

There have been reports of Muong people living in Laos, however in more recent sources this is not mentioned. A small number of Muong live in the United States of America.

Langauge

Ropal code for the Muong language: MTQ00

Livelihood

The Muong grow rice using the slash-and-burn method. Besides rice they cultivate crops, vegetables, spices and fruits.

They also breed buffaloes and cattle. Instead of daily tending to their livestock, the Muong usually let their buffaloes and cattle roam freely in the forests, feeding themselves. In the past they could not do this because of the presence of tigers and bears, but these have now been hunted to extinction in the area. The animals are rounded up when the Muong need them for food or to sacrifice in a religious ceremony.

The Muong also rely on their skills at gathering food from the forest, including food from the forest including fragrant mushrooms, honey, cinnamon, bamboo and medicinal plants. The Muong take these items and use them to trade with people on the plains. Fishing is an important activity and fish is a basic food item.

Religion and Beliefs

Religion
The religious activities of the Muong have their roots in both Chinese and Vietnamese beliefs and Animistic practices. This is evidenced in their adherence to ancestors worship, their feast days, particularly the New Year’s celebration, and their devotion to a guardian spirit that acts as overseer of each village. A special house is made for this spirit that protects the village.

Religious Practitioners
The repositories of the cult doctrines are the male and female sorcerers. The male sorcerers are guided by the inspiration of certain male spirits, which they honor by erecting altars dedicated to them in their homes. The role of the shaman is passed on in the family to a son, or nephew, and they learn how to do it from the father or uncle so not everyone can become a sorcerer, only certain families.

The women are called moi and they claim fewer magical powers than their male counterparts. They are usually spinsters, but if they marry and bear children, they raise the first daughter as an apprentice in their craft. The female sorcerers can talk to spirits but they are not trained but rather have to come under a hypnotic spell to talk to spirits The shaman do not get in the trance like state but seem to have a memorized rituals they go through as they have learned, when they are calling on the ancestor spirit.

If parents feel that one of their children is in special need of protection, even onethat is as yet unborn, as in the case of a family whose mother has had many miscarriages, they will submit the child to a sorcerer who will become, in effect, its godparent. In return for his protection, the child will give him gifts and help decorate his altar.

Most sorcerers devote themselves to a particular specialization within their field. Those who preside at funeral services are called thay mo. The ones who assume responsibility for other ceremonies are they tluong. The diviners are they mai.

Spirits and Beliefs
The Muong worship many spirits that they consider patrons of every feature of their lives. There is a spirit of the mountains, as well as spirits of agriculture, the hearth, the forest, and a variety of others. For them it’s reality as for example no one may spit in the hearth or approach it if nude for fear of offending the spirit of the hearth. It also becomes apparent following hunts when a ritual offering of game is made to the spirit of the forest, the mountain and the guardian spirit of wildlife, and of firearms.

The Muong believe in the incorporation of multiple souls within a person’s body. The basic spiritual element, that governing the everyday functions of a man’s life or his animal processes, is called bia. The higher, intellectual factor is given the name wai. Once death occurs, if the dead man’s survivors have provided him with a proper funeral, the wai starts its journey through limbo to another world, and the bia remains near the corpse, presumably disintegrating in conjunction with the remains. The wai becomes a ghost or ma and may turn to evil deeds, venting its wrath on its relatives if they neglect their duty, to dispose properly of the dead body.

Tho cong, the spirit of the soil, occupies one of the highest places in the supernatural hierarchy. For this spirit of the soil a the villagers have made a sacred house. All agricultural rites, all supplications for good crops, on which the Muong rely for their very existence, are offered to the tho cong. Musicians, using brass gongs, two-stringed instruments and bamboo flutes lead a procession to the house and play during the ceremony. In such places as Hoa Binh, Ha Tay, Phu Tho, Son La., and Yen Bai, every home has an altar consecrated to this spirit.

Muong in America have been known to use a Buddhist temple for some of their practices. Like when someone dies and is cremated, they dare not put the ashes in their home, but take them to the Buddhist temple to store there until they can be returned to Vietnam. The two worlds, that of the living and that of the dead, are both very real to the Muong, and must be kept completely separate. The land of the dead is precisely that a place where nothing grows and where there is no human activity. For this reason, on the anniversary of the death of a close relative, all agricultural activities or any work associated with creation is forbidden. When someone dies in a, house, the family believes that his ghost departs through one of the windows, and they refuse to use that window for fear his dead spirit, bia, will return to haunt them.

Every Muong family has an ancestral altar that is sacred to them and takes priority over altars to other spirits. Its elaborateness is in proportion to the family’s financial status. The Muong shaman/sorcerer can call (chanting type language) on the ancestor spirits to come and accept the sacrifice of a pig, chicken or other food to appease an angry/unhappy ancestor spirit who has caused sickness or other calamity. The kind or size of the sacrifice depends on the status, power during life), or wealth of the ancestor. If an important person, (like a village chief, tho lang), then the sacrifice has to be a larger animal. On all ceremonial occasions, such as New Year’s and agricultural holidays, certain rites are performed in honor of the dead. It is the Muong belief that their ancestors return to them on New Year’s eve and remain with them for three days. Special homage to a deceased relative is usually paid on the anniversary of the day the funeral service was completed. The simplest of these ceremonies is conducted by the head of the family. The children lie prostrate four times before the altar, and food is offered and then eaten by the family.

Mission

Scriptures and Missionary activity
Catholic missionaries have had some measure of success in working with the Muong, although no Muong village has converted, as a unit, to Catholicism.

FEBC has been transmitting weekly from the Philippines since Apr. 1976. According to FEBC data from 1998 these programs are transmitted every Monday 13:15-13:30 UTC 9795 KHz, 31 meter band.

The main content is scripture readings from the Gospel of Mark. Beside these scripture readings from Mark, there have been a few programs on Christmas and Easter and the story of Moses. New radio programs are urgently needed!

Bible: Portions of the Gospel of Mark and John has been available since 1963.

Around 1955, 4 cassettes in the Muong language were produced with the following messages.
1. Who is He?
2. About Jesus.
3. Do not be afraid.
4. The two roads.