Viet Nam News
By Mai Hiên
The first month of the new lunar year is often a time for Vietnamese to visit places of worship in order to wish for good fortune and prosperity.
This year, traditional festivals comprising violent activities and causing chaos are to be stopped or changed, according to authorities.
“We are committed to organise festivals which preserve cultural values and fine traditions. Through the festivals, we also promote an image of a beautiful and civilised country and the unique and diversified culture of its ethnic groups,” Nguyễn Ngọc Thiện, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism said at a conference held in mid-January to review festivals held over the past year.
The traditional pig slaughter festival in Bắc Ninh Province has been adjusted following the ministry’s direction. It is still being held but in private instead of publicly. The ritual is part of a festival to commemorate General Đoàn Thương of the Lý dynasty, who reclaimed the land in the 13th century. According to legend, the general slaughtered wild boars to feed his soldiers, hence the tradition.
In 2015, the Animals Asia Foundation asked the province and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to ban the slaughter in Tiên Du District, which they described as "barbaric cruelty".
Nguyễn Nam Nho, director of Sóc Sơn Temple Tourism and Relics Management Centre, said as many as 300 volunteers and 200 police have been mobilised to secure order at the festival there.
Do’s and don’ts
Despite the efforts of organisers, some ugly behaviours have been recorded at festivals in the north.
Pictures showed that hundreds of pilgrims elbowing through crowds to receive gifts from a monk on the first days of the Hương (Perfume) Pagoda Festival.
In spite of regulations at tourism sites asking tourists not to touch the monuments, worshippers still try to touch the feet of Bronze Buddha statues, believing that the act would bring them fortune.
While visiting Bái Đính Pagoda in Ninh Bình Province, Danh Thị Nhâm from Hà Nội said she saw a lot of people, both young children and the elderly, rubbing their hands over stone statues of the Buddha and turtles located across the pagoda. “Worse still, some visitors even put banknotes of small denominations into the hands of Buddha,” she said.
Nguyễn Văn Huy, former director of National Museum of Ethnology, blamed the organisers for misbehaviour at festivals. “Every year, Việt Nam has over 3,000 festivals organised to meet the spiritual and entertainment demands of the people. Most are small-scale (in a village or commune) with the participation of a limited population,” he said. "But if too many people are allowed to attend, it’s difficult to manage."
He suggested that the way festivals are organised should be changed and penalties should be imposed on violators. The awareness of pilgrims and tourists regarding appropriate behaviour also plays a vital role, Huy said. He emphasised the need to disseminate information on the mass media several months before the festival.
Lessons should be learned from other countries in Asia as well, he said, pointing to Japan as an example. "Thousands of people flock to shrines for New Year celebrations. However, most of them obey the regulations at public sites. No one litters or refuses to stand in queues," he said.
The images of young foreigners in improper outfits posing in pagodas are sometimes shared on social websites in Việt Nam. These photos are a reminder of how to act at sacred places. However, we should look at ourselves first. We must set an example for foreigners to follow.
Hà Nội’s Department of Culture and Sports is inviting public feedback on a draft Code of Conduct in public places. The code of conduct will cover speech, attitude, and behavior expected of “all individuals and organisations who live, work, study, visit and stay in Hà Nội."
Individuals and organisations abiding by the regulations will be lauded and awarded, while those found flouting them can be fined and publicly condemned on mass media.
Last month, HCM City’s Department of Tourism issued a code of conduct for tourists to ensure they behave appropriately in public.
We all know that behaviour cannot change overnight, it takes time. But it is hoped that with such measures, people’s awareness of the do’s and don’ts will grow. — VNS