Viet Nam News
QUẢNG NGÃI — Residents of the An Vĩnh Commune on the island of Lý Sơn in central Quảng Ngãi Province held a festival to honour fallen sailors. The sailors who were the island natives gave their lives to safeguard the country’s maritime sovereignty over the Hoàng Sa (Paracel) and Trường Sa (Spratly) archipelagos.
Locals said that back in the old days under the Nguyễn Lords’ mandate, every year 70 of the island’s best seafarers formed the Hoàng Sa Flotila to safeguard their homeland’s maritime rights and explore the East Sea.
The festival, with origins dating back to the 16th century according to experts, comprised two main activities: a feast for sailors who were about to leave on missions and a commemoration ceremony for sailors who never returned from such missions. It has since been given the name Hoàng Sa (Paracel) Soldier Feast and Commemoration Festival.
The sailors’ missions often required them to remain at sea for nearly six months of the year. Over many generations, thousands of sailors never made it back to the shore of their homeland, and the festival was created to honour them. To this day, many empty graves can still be found on the island belonging to the island’s brave sailors.
On the island the festival has long become more than just a tradition. Locals consider the festival as part of their heritage and identity, as most of them have ancestors among the fallen sailors.
“Our ancestors diligently protected the country’s sovereignty over the Hoàng Sa (Paracel) and Trường Sa (Spratly) archipelagos for hundreds of years. The festival is held to remind us and younger generations of the tremendous sacrifices they made,” said Nguyễn Tính, a local of the island.
Local fisherman Võ Biếc told Vietnam News Agency’s News newspaper that his crew made it back to shore just the day before the festival. He said the annual festival reminds the island’s fishermen of their ancestors’ glory and inspires them with courage to carry on with their way of life and help protect the sovereignty of the country’s islands.
During the festival, locals release boats carrying tributes filled with rice, wine and papier-mâché with the names of lost sailors written on them into the sea, a practice which is said to help their spirits ascend to the Heaven.
The festival was officially recognised as a national intangible cultural heritage and the An Vĩnh communal temple on the island, where the festival is held annually, became a national historical site in 2013. — VNS