Gau Tao festival – an outstanding cultural feature of Hmong people in Sapa

If you want to explore the unique culture and customs of ethnic minorities of Vietnam, a Sapa cultural tour is a great idea. There are numerous interesting festivals held in Sapa every year. Today, let’s discover Gau Tao Festival, which is known as an outstanding cultural feature of Hmong hill tribe.

When is Gau Tao festival celebrated?

Regarded as one of the most important traditional events of the Hmong People, Gau Tao Festival has been preserved over many years by Hmong hill tribe in the districts of Muong Khuong, Si Ma Cai Bac Ha, and Phong Hai town. If you prefer ethnic travel Sapa tours, Tet Holiday is an ideal occasion to discover Sapa’s interesting festivals. Visiting Sapa on this occasion, tourists will not only admire blooming peach trees and plum but also have a good opportunity to explore the customs and habits of Hmong people, most typically is Gau Tao Festival. Gau Tao Festival is taken place from 1st to 15thof the lunar January annually with the aim to pray for good health, happiness and lucky children.


Gau Tao festival

Preparations for the festival

Although Gao Tao festival is held in January of the lunar calendar, the preparations for the festival have to be started from late December, especially two rituals which are bamboo cutting and laying. Before cutting down a bamboo and planting ‘neu’ tree to conduct the ritual, the host family has to prepare a full tray of food. Then the sorcerer (Tru Tao) will sing songs to tell the gods the purpose of the festival. The chosen bamboo must be straight, about 10m height with no flowers, and in completely good condition. The most crucial element is that the top of the bamboo tree must face towards the east. The chosen bamboo tree will be planted in the center of the festival place with an alcohol bag and a red strip to call for the Gods and inform villagers about the festival. 

Main activities

Normally, the leader of the village will announce to other families about the festival one day before it starts. In the early morning of the festival’s first day, villagers will gather at the place that the festival takes place. Similar to other traditional festivals in Vietnam, Gau Tao festival includes two main parts, which are the ritual and the festival. 

In the ritual section, the host family will prepare a meal for their ancestors on the family altar and a shaman will help them to call their ancestors’ soul to return and pray for them. After the opening worship of the shaman, young girls and boys dressing in new and colorful traditional costumes, necklaces and bracelets of Hmong hill tribe start singing their traditional songs.  


The ritual part

After the ritual part, the festival, which is for the guests as well as the villagers, will officially begin. The festival is started with a song performed by a ‘singer’ in the family to wish the whole family health, luck and success. After that, all people can join in the singing, dances and other fun activities. Some groups blow bamboo plants, leaf-flutes while others play traditional games such as spinning, ‘con’ throwing, sticking, bow shooting, etc. Moreover, it is a great occasion for boys and girls in the village to meet each other and find love via interesting cultural activities.  Most of the tourists who had participated in the festival said that having an opportunity to take part in these kinds of cultural activities together with locals is the best part of their Sapa trekking tour.


Performance at Gau Tao festival

When the festival is over, on behalf of the host family, the “Tru tao” will burn worship-paper and sprays the alcohol round to express gratitude to the Earth, Heaven and Gods. A piece of red cloth from the tree is taken off to tie to the house-door, which means that the family will be protected by the Gods. The host will announce the end of the festival after 3 days. Then they will walk counter-clockwise around the tree and sing the song to lay it down. They will then give the family the root of that ‘neu’ tree to put on the bed, and a red cloth on the top of the bamboo to make clothes for their kids with the hope of avoiding illness and bad luck.


Traditional games

Most of Vietnam travel agency offers a Sapa trekking tour so why don’t you travel to Sapa in the time of Gau Tao festival to know more about the wonderful culture of Hmong people?