Longing for Gau Tao festival in Sapa


What is Gau Tao festival? – Well, it’s one of a few traditional festivals that are still preserved and remained until today of H’Mong people in Sapa.

Gau Tao festival means “recreation place” in Hmong language or “jumping over mountain” in Quan Hoa dialect (also called Sai Sai festival). It’s also known as Hoa Son festival/period among H’mong people in China.

The role of Gau Tao festival

The Hmong believe that if a family want to have more children or to be healthy, they can go to Gau Tao hill to pray their ancestors to help them acquire what they want.

Gau Tao festival in Sapa

The villagers will choose a family they love to hold the festival. According to the customs, Gao Tao festival will be cohosted by 3 chosen families, either by blood or in-law. Normally, the festival is held in spring for 3 years in a row so that each family can take turn plant ‘neu’ tree and get luck from it in every festival.

Rituals in Gao Tao festival

It’s believed by the Mong that Gau Tao festival represents the life of the head of the family. The sunken area in front of the hill is considered bad luck in the past, and the higher areas behind the hill represents prosperity and good luck in the future.

Gau Tao festival in spring of H’mong people

Prepare for Gau Tao festival

Though Gao Tao festival is held in January of lunar calendar, everything has to be prepared since November of the previous year, especially these 2 rituals – cutting down and plant ‘neu’ tree.

neu-tree in-gau-tao-festival-of-mong-people-in-ha-giang
’Neu’ tree in Gao Tao festival of Mong people in Ha Giang

The head of the family has to prepare a full tray of food before chopping down a bamboo to plant ‘neu’ tree in order to conduct the rituals. The sorcerer (Tru Tao) will then sing songs to tell the gods the purpose of the festival and to find a good bamboo tree (selected in advance) for the rituals.

Lots of people gather in Gau Tao festival

The choses bamboo must be straight, in completely good condition, with same-sized internodes, about 10m height and with no flowers. The most important thing is that the top must face towards the east. When villagers see the tree, it means Gau Tao festival will be held that year. Villagers will spread the information and take time for training to win the games in the festival.

When is that held?

Gau Tao festival of H’mong people is held from 2nd to 4th of January (lunar year), depending on the age of the family head. After the rituals, the festival will officially begin. At first, a ‘singer’ in the family will sing a song to wish the whole family health, luck and success. After that, all people can join the singing and dances.

Gau Tao festival of Hmong people in Sapa

There are also many other games including ‘con’ throwing, lusheng dance, martial arts, bow shooting, etc. to show off their skills to their crushes. After 3 days, the host will announce the end of the festival before walking counter-clockwise around the tree and singing the song to lay it down.

The host 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 hope of preventing illness and bad luck for the children.