(HBO) – An interesting cultural relic of the Mong ethnic group in the northwestern region of Vietnam is that of the "ném pao” or ball throwing. It is not merely a folk game but represents much more to the ethnic traditions of the Mong. Nem Pao is a unique form of partnership and happiness that can lead to much more for ethnic Mong couples.

Mong ethnic women in Hang Kia commune, Mai Chau district are throwing the ball (Nem Pao) on a spring day.

Images of Mong women busily sewing the last stiches on clothes and colourful pao flow into the spotlight as visitors drop by the Hang Kia and Pa Co communes in Mai Chau district. Colourful pao is made from linen cloth, stuffed with flaxseed. According to Mong ethnic beliefs, the linen and flax balls are colorful symbols of happiness and represent fertility and future partnership within the community.

Pao making has been passed down through generations. Trumpet and khen (pan-pipe) dances help men to find their partner, and pao are the equivalent symbol of partnership for women.

A simple game, pao throwing carries great cultural value in that it allows men and women to introduce and meet each other around the pao symbol of happiness. The cultural phenomenon results in couples first meeting and transitioning into becoming husbands and wives.

According to Sung Thi Mua, a local in Hang Kia hamlet, Hang Kia commune, it is the Mong ethnics’ tradition that women should yield their paos in the spring to start a season of fertility and partnership.

"We are passing down the making of pao and ball throwing festivities to younger generations, and in doing so, perpetuate the Mong cultural traditions”, Mua said.

Sung Y Mai, a brocade weaving artisan in Hang Kia commune, said Mong men want to marry a woman who is good at weaving, embroidery and sewing pao.

"A good Mong woman must know how to make a good pao”, she said, explaining a good pao must have tight stitches and it should be the perfect shape. 

Nem Pao is held at the yard of the local cultural houses or at the pitch, during which two teams, each with three-to-ten men or women, throw the linen ball and ensure it does not fall to the ground. While playing, women and men exchange glances, smiles, and affection. After the game, if the woman and man feel the love, the man will keep her pao and express his admiration on a subsequent visit to her home. The goal, of course, is a lifelong partnership between them, based on sewing skill and enjoying the cultural festivities together. 

Nowadays, life in Mong villages has changed drastically. The Mong people are paying due attention to preserving their cultural values by integrating traditional games into extra-curricular activities at the local schools.

According to Vang Y Sai, a teacher of Hang Kia Primary and Secondary School, in a bid to preserve and develop folk games, the school carries out a wide range of measures to encourage both students and parents to join folk games on regular afternoons.

Together with ball throwing, other folk games like "đánh yến” (rooster feather shuttlecocks), tu lu (traditional version of spinning tops), "đẩy gậy” (stick pushing) and "ném còn” (còn throwing) have been well preserved by the Mong ethnic in Mai Chau.

The games are not only a vivid illustration of Mong men’s strength and bravery and the skillfulness of Mong women, but they also raise hope for a happy and prosperous life./.

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