The Cham kingdom ruled central Vietnam for 14 centuries, hemmed in by Khmers to the south and Vietnamese to the north. Today just 100,000 Chams and a handful of tower ruins remain. This festival is an important one for the culture of the Chams, one of many minority groups making up Vietnam's ethnic mosaic.
The Chams of this region follow the matrilineal practices of their ancestors and worship the Hindu God Shiva, while communities closer to the Cambodian border are Islamic and patrilineal. Preparations before the several main days of the Kate Festival include ritual offerings to the ancient Cham King. On the eve of the festival the traditional Poh Akharao dance is performed in costume to solemn Kapo music.
Crowded processions, accompanied by ancient Raglay music, make their way to the remains of Cham temples and towers (among the best preserved and most accessible are the Po Klong Garai towers, named after a Cham King, about 7km from Phan Rang town). After a "door opening" ceremony the vice sorcerer sings a hymm to the power of the people, to the rhythms of ancient Kanhi. The Statue of the King is washed and rituals continue through the night. Finally the people compose and recite a poem and play music.
Offering a feast to ancestors is of particular importance to the Chams, but curiously fowl with white feathers are excluded. Dances such as the dragon, fan, peacock, throwing-water and trampling-fire dances are accompanied by ensembles of traditional flute, drum and violins. This is a great spectacle and well worth seeking out.
The dates programmed here are approximate. The festival takes place on the first ten days of the seventh month of the Cham Calendar (which corresponds with September or October) - please check locally for exact dates.