Update: 13:37 | 13/02/2020
While many spring festivals across the country have changed amid the rapid development of society, some traditional customs which have a strong attachment to nature and people’s production activities have been kept intact and well-preserved, including the ceremonies to worship the God of the Forest and Whale (God of the Sea).
Ethnic groups living in the forest and mountainous areas celebrate their traditional ceremony to give thanks to the Forest God and Mountain God at the beginning of the year. During the event, locals avoid entering the forest, collecting firewood, and chopping down trees to pay tribute to these Gods.
The whale worshipping festival in Phu Yen province.
The ceremony is often observed from the fourth to the fifteenth days of the first lunar month on a sacred mountain, in a forest or at the communal temple of the village.
To open the ceremony, the village’s shaman presents offerings of rice, a rooster and wine to the Gods, and prays for favourable weather conditions, good health, prosperity and a bumper crop for the people. The offerings are then delivered to locals.
In many localities, after the food offering ceremony, men both young and old in the village gather to hunt at a selected forest area. The animal is then barbecued and offered to the village’s god before being delivered equally to participants of the hunt.
The Forest God-worshipping ceremony shows the respect and goodwill of people towards their natural living conditions while contributes to raising their awareness of preserving the environment, which provides human beings with not only a home but also natural resources to maintain their life.
While people in mountainous areas give thanks to the Forest God, fishermen in coastal areas cherish the Whale God, which is believed to be the “God of the Sea” and protects them from dangers at sea.
Therefore, almost every village in the coastal region of Vietnam has a temple to worship the whale, which is often located near the beach. The temple, which is an important place in the village, has worships jars containing skeletons of dead whales that has previously washed up on the local beach.
A whale worshipping ritual is organised on a “blessed” day soon after Tet (lunar New Year) holiday every year as a must of local fishermen. Before the ritual takes place, ships and boats are not allowed to anchor at the village’s common wharf.
In preparation for the ritual, the villagers vote for an organising board, which is in charge of collecting money from families to prepare the offerings. The offerings must include a rooster.
The villagers also vote for a board of patriarchs to run the ritual, who are aged from 55 years and above and live a happy family life. An oration is delivered at the event to wish for a New Year full of health, safe return and plenty of catches at sea.
The event also features songs, dances, theatrical performances, and games such as an undersea tug of war, boat racing, and a contest to mend fishing nets. At the end of the ceremony, the locals head to the sea to officially launch their fishing season.
The whale-worshipping ceremony expresses fishermen’s respect to the God of the Sea and it has been preserved and promoted among their community for many generations.