Ba Ria-Vung Tau – Located in the Southeast cultural sub-region, Ba Ria Vung Tau not only has a long beach and many natural attractions, but also preserves many unique folklore festivals, imbued with the culture, customs and beliefs of the people in the region.
According to the Department of Culture and Sports of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, the province has a diverse system of historical and cultural relics. Currently, the province has 12 traditional festivals, some typical of which are the death anniversary of Lady Phi Yen (a concubine of Lord Nguyen Anh), the death anniversary of National Hero Tran Hung Dao, Nghinh Ong Festival at Thang Tam Communal House, Ba Ngu Hanh Temple Festival, Trung Cuu Festival, Dinh Co Festival, Saint Tran’s death anniversary-Long Son Great House.
Traditional festivals in Ba Ria-Vung Tau bear the influence of traditional culture of all three regions of the North-Central-South and have become an indispensable part of the community’s cultural life here.
Recently, the commemoration of the anniversary of Lady Phi Yen in Con Dao district has become the first Intangible Cultural Heritage in Ba Ria-Vung Tau to be included in the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
On the 17th and 18th days of the 10th lunar month every year, the commemoration of Lady Phi Yen’s death anniversary is held at Lady Phi Yen Temple, also known as An Son Temple – a famous spiritual tourist destination in Con Dao, honouring her virtues and chastity.
According to Vice Chairman of the People’s Committee of Con Dao district, Nguyen Thuy Nga, the Festival – death anniversary of Lady Phi Yen have special meaning in the spiritual culture of many people in the sacred land of Con Dao.
During the festival, many solemn activities are held such as the procession of Hoi An Prince – the son of Lady Phi Yen, the worshiping ritual on the main day to express the people’s respect for her and sincerely pray for peace of the country, safety of the people, favourable weather, and happy families.
The festival part has many activities such as: displaying fruit trays, flower arranging contests, folk games, calligraphy writing, performances of Don Ca Tai Tu, attracting the attention of both local residents in the island district and tourists coming to Con Dao on the festival occasion.
Besides the Festival – death anniversary of Lady Phi Yen which has been recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage, Ba Ria-Vung Tau province has made scientific dossiers for the local Intangible Cultural Heritages – the Nghinh Ong Festival at Thang Tam communal house (Vung Tau city) and Dinh Co Festival (Long Dien district), requesting the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to recognize them as national intangible cultural heritages.
Nghinh Ong festival at Thang Tam communal house, Vung Tau city, has been maintained by generations of fishermen and Vung Tau community for more than 100 years, with many rituals bearing typical coastal cultural characteristics, as an occasion of fishermen to express their gratitude to Ca Ong (whale) for extending help for them when their ship or boat crashed at sea.
Taking place from the 16th to 18th in the 8th lunar month every year, Nghinh Ong Festival consists of two parts: ceremonial and festive activities. The ceremonial part includes procession, rituals for worshiping gods and offering sacrifices. The festive part features many folk games recreating fishermen’s activities such as fishing contest, net weaving, tug of war, checkered chess competition on sand, which are imbued with the culture of coastal inhabitants.
Dinh Co Festival (in Long Hai town, Long Dien district) is held on the 10th and 12th of the second lunar month every year, considered the biggest water festival in the South Sea.
According to legend, about 200 years ago, a girl on her way through the waters here encountered a storm, fell into the sea and died. Her body drifted to Hon Hang. People in the area buried her and set up a temple near the sea. Since then, she was said to frequently make epiphany, appear in dreams to give warnings, and help quell epidemics.
Fishermen in the area built a temple and honored her as “Long Hai Than Nu Bao An Chanh Truc Nuong Nuong Chi Than”. Her temple was moved to the foot of Ky Van mountain, which is Dinh Co relic today.
Every year, before the main holiday (the 10th and 11th days in the second lunar month) in this coastal area, a night lantern festival is held, boats are docked facing Dinh Co. On the main day of the holiday (the 12th day in the second lunar month), boats will be turned to the sea to celebrate.
The boat of the fisherman who is named the best seafarer of the year is chosen to lead, followed by other boats going out to sea amid the sound of drums. After sailing about 2-3 nautical miles to the place where the girl was believed to have died, the fishermen will hold a ritual to invite her along with the gods and ancestors to the temple to celebrate the anniversary.
On the days of the festival, people and tourists can also participate in many folk games such as basket boat racing, eel catching, and singing unique melodies together.
Many researchers believe that the Dinh Co Festival in Long Hai town is part of the festival system of the worship of Mother-Goddess. But the festival here is not merely the worship of Mother-Goddess. It is a combination of the fishing festival with the custom of worshiping the sea god (Lady Thuy Long, whale of the Cham people) and local residents’ belief in worshiping Mother-Goddess, creating a very unique characteristic for the festival.
Promoting heritage values
Leaders of Ba Ria-Vung Tau provincial Party Committee have defined the task of identifying heritage values and taking solutions to preserve and promote the value of relics and heritages, including intangible cultural heritages. Traditional festivals imbued with traditional cultural imprints of local coastal communities have been maintained and developed into cultural and tourist festivals, attracting a large number of tourists annually, such as Nghinh Ong Festival at Thang Tam communal house, Dinh Co Festival, Lady Phi Yen’s death anniversary, death anniversary of Heroic Martyr Vo Thi Sau, and Trung Cuu ceremony or Sayangva (God of Rice) and Sayangbri (God of Forest) of the Cho Ro ethnic group.
Ba Ria-Vung Tau province has developed programmes and plans to implement resolutions related to the development of an advanced Vietnamese culture imbued with national cultural identity.
All levels and branches in the province actively propagate the Party’s viewpoints, policies and guidelines on building the Vietnamese culture and developing people in the new situation; at the same time propagating and promoting the image of Ba Ria-Vung Tau province, especially the unique cultural features, tourism, and typical cultural heritage.
Recently, the People’s Committee of Ba Ria-Vung Tau province has issued a plan to implement the cultural development strategy in the province to 2030. In particular, for the conservation and promotion of cultural heritages, including intangible cultural heritages, the province will continue to implement Decision No. 5022/QD-UBND dated December 31, 2021 of the provincial People’s Committee on approving the implementation plan of the program to preserve and promote sustainable cultural heritage values in the area, in the period of 2021-2025.
The province has submitted to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism a proposal on including a number of festivals such as Nghinh Ong Festival in Thang Tam communal house, Dinh Co festival, etc., in the National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. At the same time, the province develops a plan to promote the value of those festivals to promote the image and attract tourists to Ba Ria-Vung Tau.
Referring to solutions to preserve, promote values, and create new vitality for the heritages in Ba Ria-Vung Tau, some researchers and experts affirmed that the festivals have partly reflected the typical cultural activities of the community and this is also an opportunity to attract tourists from all over the world to the locality to worship in combination with sightseeing, swimming and relaxing.
Exploiting the cultural value of sea villages, including festivals, to develop new tourism products, will contribute to promoting the unique cultural values and serving tourism development of Ba Ria-Vung Tau province./.