Cham Ethnic Group celebrates Ramawan Festival

Ramawan Festival – a traditional festival of Cham Bani minority people held in one month that’s also called “the strictly austere” month officially takes place from June 26 to June 28 in two provinces of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.

To Cham Bani people, the month of the festival is considered the biggest and most important occasion of the year where people fast and practice austerity, according to Islamic teachings and beliefs. The festival is also a chance for people to express their affections and gratitude towards the ancestors and the lost ones, simultaneously celebrating by arranging traditional song and dance routines.

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Cham people have a cultural routine to be visiting graves of their families and relatives a couple of days before the occasion of Ramawan Festival. People would gather together in groups of tribes or palei (villages), dressing according to the groups and carrying quite simple offerings of pots of tea, cakes, fruits and egg wine. They would spread out in groups to the families’ grave areas, re-decorating the graves, mowing lawns, performing purifying ceremony and finally inviting the dead members of the families to attend the “family reunion” on the special occasion of Ramawan Festival.

Due ceremony on the so-called grave day is led by Po Acar (the title of Bani Priest). Po Acar would quote verses from the Book of Koran in Arabic, and selective men from the villages that are equipped with enough Koran teachings and trained with Bini scripts would be allowed to dress differently and participate in performing the ceremony with the Priest.

While Po Acar is leading the ceremony, other people in the family would kneel down before the ancestral graces to express their welcoming invitation and to pray. It is believed that Cham Ethnic’s most remarkable cultural features are well presented through the grave-ceremony. On that day, the cemetery is filled with people dressed in white clothes (their mourning clothes are also white), Bani priests with traditional red turbans and Cham women dressed in traditional colorful costumes.

After the ceremony at the graves is held, each family would come back home to set aside a special room of the house and prepare the room with a flower sedge mat with pillow, a tray of betel, tea pot and fruits. According to Cham’s belief, that place of the house is set out for ancestors to come and reign in during Ramawan Festival. After preparing all necessary things for the room, Cham people would be ready to perform the worshipping ceremony and sacrifices offering.

The worshipping and sacrifices offering routines can be led by either the Po Acar himself or by one of the men that have learnt the Koran teachings by heart. The offerings must be placed on a high-legged tray (the traditional tray of Cham people). There are two typical sets of offerings; one includes vegetarian foods such as glutinous rice cakes, there-cornered patty, sweetened porridge, steamed rice, sakaya cakes; the other set includes regular foods such as boiled chicken, fish soup, and dried fish. The ceremony starts with the Koran reading as soon as the frankincense pervades its smoke. During the holy ambience of the ceremony, Po Acar would pour out some wine and simultaneously praying, inviting ancestors of the family, later going on inviting dead members and relatives of the family. 

The special occasion of Ramawan Festival requires the presence of every member of the family. Cham people celebrate Ramawan Festival with the same affection and attitude as Vietnamese people celebrate the traditional Lunar New Year. Families in the villages would be visiting each other, wishing each other health, prosperity and luck.

After the first three days celebrating the Festival, Cham Ethnic’s villages would become quiet to maintain the holy atmosphere. During the time, Bani Muslims would perform the purifying ceremonies in order to keep their bodies clean and spirits peaceful. The purifying ceremonies can be held at home using cat boi waters. From that moment of performing and receiving purifying ceremonies, Cham people must maintain not killing living creatures, keeping their spiritual lives holy and their bodies tidy, clean to attend the church for Ramawan services.

Bani Islamic priests would gather at the holy church for one month to be performing Ramawan services. They would be reading Koran scripts, fasting from sunrise to sunset in order to purify themselves, to practice kindness and tolerance and to understand the hearts of less fortunate people. During this month, they must obey due dogmas of the Islamic doctrines such as attending services on every Friday, performing ceremonies of “Descending of Male Saint”, “Descending of Female Saint” and the final ceremony of Ramawan on the 30th day of the strictly austere month before going back homes. 
To every Cham Bani follower of Islam, Ramawan is a spiritual occasion on which they can connect with the Lord and the family’s ancestors. Apart from the individual spiritual features, Ramawan Festival also carries strong values of religion and culture which contribute greatly to the varied cultural background of the country and need to be appreciated and preserved. 

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