Worshipping the whale for luck at sea

Worshipping the whale for luck at sea - ảnh 1

They worship the Whale not only because it shows their respect for the Gods but also for the prosperity of the whole village. "Mr." is the honorable name that fishermen in Vietnam call the whale because they usually save the fishermen from the accidents on their trips fishing. Every time the whales drift shore, fishermen called them "ong luy".  The person who finds the whale first is the chairman and in charge of the Whale’s funeral. The festival, which is often held in the 5th lunar month, opens with a ceremony of showing the head of the boat. A group of 40 young people beat the drums and row the boat to the pier, passing by various pagodas and temples to reach Nhat Le estuary. This ceremony is followed by a Bridge Ceremony in which around 100 women dressed in traditional long dresses wearing white ribbons which represent bridges inviting the soul of predecessors home to join the festive atmosphere with their children.


Worshipping the whale for luck at sea - ảnh 2


70 year old Phạm Xuân Phiên is one of the locals that have a sound knowledge about the Whale worshiping festival in Hai Thanh coastal village. He said that the annual festival is observed by everyone in the village as they all wish for moderate weather and good business. “Generation after generation, old people show their children and grandchildren  the traditional practices and customs used in the ceremony, to bring up the souls of people who have died at sea and in the mountains to pagodas and burn fire to warm these souls. It is too cold for them to live under water and that’s why we have to bring them to the pagoda”, he said. The whale worshiping festival is a special community cultural activity. During the festival, in addition to performing Tuong classical opera and chanting melodies, local artists also sing and dance to promote unity between fishermen on a boat to overcome big waves, strong winds and earn bumper catches. A ritual is performed by the local elders at sea to express their gratitude to the whale, commemorate fishermen who have died at sea, and pray for good luck and a good catch. They also pray for good weather, a peaceful sea and the fishermen’s safety.


Worshipping the whale for luck at sea - ảnh 3
Photo by: qbvn


The ceremony often takes place at the beginning of the fishing season. Hai Thanh natives, wherever they are, all try to come home to attend this great event. A local, Ho Thu Ly said she hopes that the festival will be preserved for future generations. “The festival should not just be held during major events in the province but also be promoted during major traditional occasions so that younger generations have a chance to learn more about the province’s fine traditions which have been preserved for thousands of years,” she said.  

Previously, Hai Thanh locals held the festival every six years. Recently, it is held every three years. The festival plays an important role in promoting the local cultures and uniting the community. According to Mr. Ho Minh Ty is Vice Chairman of Hai Thanh Commune’s People’s Committee, the festival is an age old tradition of people in Hai Thanh commune. “It reflects the rich culture and tradition of the local people. By holding this festival, we can educate younger generations about the local cultural identity and their tradition as well as unity among people in production and daily life,” said Minh Ty.

Worshipping the whale for luck at sea - ảnh 4
Photo by: saigontorseco


During the festival, the altar is decorated with colourful flags and other accessories. All the families put their offerings on the altars while fishermen decorate their boats with flowers and lanterns. The village chooses the old and good men whose families have not had a funeral to pray to heaven and the god of the sea in Cau Ngu. The chairman gives offerings (the offerings must not be sea products) and reads out the prayers to show the people’s gratitude for the whale’s spirit and for safe fishing journeys and a prosperous and peaceful life. 

Story by: Mai Phuong