|An elderly man prays for 1885 at the temple built by Huế locals. — VNS Photo Nguyễn Văn Sum|
THỪA THIÊN- HUẾ — Huế yesterday held a grand ritual ceremony to remember the victims of a French massacre on the day the citadel of the Nguyễn Dynasty (1802-1945) fell into the hands of French colonists in 1885.
The ceremony was held at the Âm Hồn Pavilion, which was built by the dynasty’s King Thành Thái in 1894 for the wandering souls of the 1885 massacre, by the Huế Monuments Conservation Centre, during which prayers were conducted by local Buddhist monks.
This was the first time since 1975 that a grand ritual was held at the site. Following the wars, the pavilion had been forgotten and was illegally occupied, losing its status as a holy memorial pavilion. In 2013, local authorities in the former imperial capital city of Huế recognised it as a heritage site and restored its status.
At the grassroots level, Huế residents built a temple on their own outside the former Imperial Palace to commemorate the victims. Every year, they held a ceremony to pray for the souls, with funds contributed voluntarily by locals.
This year’s ceremony lasted two days over the previous weekend.
For the last eight days of lunar May, in Huế, one could see temporary altars set up in front of homes, companies, offices and alleys, with food and lit incense.
The altars were made to honour the wandering souls. Each altar comprises a variety of food items, depending on the financial capacity of each household, office and community. The food includes costly items to cheap ones such as beef, tuna fish, cassava, sweet potatoes and sugarcane.
The ritual items also include cigarettes, wines and whatever other things a person might need. Despite the hot summer day, every altar has a flame burning, to symbolise the fire that is said to have kept warm, the people who fell into the canals and rivers during the incident.
On July 4, 1885, the sovereignty of the country under the rule of the dynasty fell into hands of French colonists. There were battles between royal and French troops, during which some 15,000 Vietnamese soldiers and locals were killed.
The date became the anniversary for Huế locals to remember the dead. In remembrance of those who died in the incident from lunar May 23 to 30, the people of Huế set up temporary altars and performed rituals.
In related news, Phạm Tuấn Sơn, writer of the book Dám Làm Giàu, last Friday flew on a hot air balloon to introduce his book in Huế. During his flight, Sơn was seen throwing cash down for people to collect.
Huế locals, however, were furious at his act as they felt Sơn had desecrated their belief on lunar May 23 memorial day. Sơn later apologised, but some locals said they did not accept the apology and were seeking a legal framework to sue him.
Huế locals believe the throwing of money is a way to donate to the wandering souls during their rituals. — VNS