A day to bid forever farewell

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The sound of gongs being struck echoes across the graveyard, interrupted sometimes by sobs and moans, people calling each other to have a sip of wine, and the heavy breath of cattle being tied for butchering.

The Jrai people in the Gia Lai Province are getting ready for a feast to say their final goodbyes to the recently deceased.

Po Thi, which translates to "ceremony for leaving the graves," is held every year by the Central Highlands hill tribe for relatives who have died in the preceding months.

The people believe that their late relatives stick around this world for a while after death, and thus they still share their belongings and bring meals to the graves every day, until the Po Thi day when they have prepared enough livestock for a party and they say goodbye to the dead once more and for all.

Ksor Pong, the leader of Pi village in Gia Lai’s border district of Grai, said the tradition has been around since at least his grandparents’ time.

Pong said the preparations take a whole month as the villagers need to grow their livestock and make enough "ruou can" (the popular highlands beverage drunk out of a jar with bamboo straws) from glutinous rice.

A village’s Po Thi in January used around 23 cows and six buffalos donated by the villagers.

Old men prepared the prayers and ceremonial speeches.

Women were busy cooking and taking care of little children during the ceremony or preparing offerings to bid farewell to the dead.

Young men prepared bamboo sticks for decorations and chopped down wood from the jungle to refurbish the graveyard.

The ceremony lasts for a whole day and through the night.

But the village’s ceremony didn’t have any wooden statues traditionally associated with Po Thi, but four porcelain dogs placed in four corners instead.

“Those who know how to sculpt all died. And there’s little wood left to make them also,” Pong said.

He said the village recently had to organize the second Po Thi for the same 200 graves, although it’s a taboo among the group, as the graves which they said goodbye to in 1976 were threatened by a hydropower dam and needed higher ground.

“I had to hold several meetings and persuade locals a lot for them to accept another Po Thi.”

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