For the locals of ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, the elephant is a rare and of great importance species in their daily activities including traveling, doing agricultural works, pulling wood or doing irrigation work, etc., Elephant is considered the embodiment of health and prosperity of any family and village. In Vietnam, elephants gather with the largest number in Dak Lak province (more than 400 home elephants) in which the most crowded group is in Ea Sup District. Buon Don in Ea Sup where the major people are Hmong, Ede and Laos has been famous for not only the groups of hundreds of elephants, but also the home of hunting and training elephant for a long time. Visiting this place, visitors shall listen to the legends about the remarkable elephant hunting of some renowned elephant hunting Kings.
In the Central Highlands, the home of elephants, there is a really unique festival that is unforgettable for anyone used to witness called Elephant Racing Festival. This festival often takes place in spring, the end of March in lunar calendar which is said to be the best month in a year.
To prepare for the festival, people choose big and healthy elephants and take them to the luxuriant forests where the foods are available. They also feed these elephants with banana, papaya, sugarcane, corn, sweet potato, rice powder and make them relax...
When the festival comes, herds of elephants from different villages come to Buon Don, gathering in some grounds or woodlands on the riverside of Serepok. Together with elephants, people from all places come to attend the festival in colorful clothes.
The race ground is a quite flat plot (a plain forest without many big trees for instance) with the width is enough for 10 elephants to go at the same time and the length is from 1 to 2 km. After a sound of a horn, the elephants under the control of the managers, called mogats, are respectively coming to the ground, lining up and standing at the scratch. On the back of each elephant, there are 1 or 2 brave mogats who are poised to start, in the style of the generals in the past.
Silence covers the racecourse as people are waiting nervously. A loud sound of horn starts, informing the race to begin. Suddenly, the huge feet and the giant bodies which seem to be unable to move shoot forward. The cheers of audiences together with the sounds of horn, drum and other music equipment echoed the region. The mogat sitting on the head of the elephant lowers his head, takes a look and controls the elephant by a sharp iron rod which is around 1m long called Kreo used to ram into the flesh to urge the elephant to move faster. The second mogat sitting behind uses a wooden hammer tap on the elephant’s butts so that it runs fast and in a straight line. On the race, dirt and dry leaves are lifted, wind shouts combining with the sound of elephants’ footsteps.
When the first elephant reaches the destination, audiences cheer like a thunderstorm. Drums and horns resound continuously, followed by applauds to praise the winners. The winners are rewarded with flowers and red tapes. The rewards include a pig and 7 cups of rare wine. The attendants give the winning elephant sugarcanes. After the race, elephants come back to their villages, bringing along the interesting melodies and atmosphere of the festival. Arriving at their village, the elephants are welcome merrily and rewarded the same as the winners.
Normally, the elephant champion comes from Buon Don, a village of the M’nong where possesses the biggest number of elephant and the tradition of best-taking care and training elephants in the region. To celebrate the victory, people gather at the communal house to have a party with dances in the sound of gongs overnight.
Elephant racing festival is an important festival of the ethnic groups in Central Highland which attracts herds of elephants from even the most distanced region to join. This festival is aiming at celebrating the high spirit, the skilfulness in hunting, raising and training elephants of the people in the Central Highland. This is also the occasion for meeting and cultural exchange between people to strengthen their sense of community.