Flying high: Trần Văn Hiện from Bồng Lai Commune, Quế Võ District is a skilled pigeon raiser who has won many prizes in homing pigeon races. VNS Photos Thanh Thương
Viet Nam News
by Diệp Trương - Lương Hương
Located 30km from Hà Nội, Bắc Ninh Province is renowned not only for its melodious quan họ (love duet) singing, but also for another romantic local hobby: raising homing pigeons.
Legend has it that the practice originated during the Lý Dynasty (1010-1225), when locals from several communes and villages in the province were assigned to train pigeons to carry military messages from the northern border areas to the capital Thang Long (former name of Ha Noi).
After the conflicts came to an end, the pigeons were trained for flying competitions and arts performances.
The pigeon-flying contests are held in front of the communal houses, large grounds and dykes, attracting great crowds of villagers when the harvesting seasons have come in every fourth and eighth lunar months.
Amidst the clear blue sky, flocks of pigeons hover in the air before flying away as attendees cheer and applaud.
The bird races have become a tradition of the Bắc Ninh residents, conveying their hopes for a bumper crop, prosperity and peace. The contests have developed into a hobby, which has been preserved until now.
Trần Văn Hiện from Bồng Lai Commune in Quế Võ District is one of the skilled raisers and has won many prizes in pigeon contests.
Starting when he was small, he would follow his grandfather and father as they carried their birds to compete in village festivals.
He cannot remember how many prizes he has acquired in his 40 years of raising pigeons, from village, district and provincial contests. Presently, he is training around 65 homing pigeons for races.
In training: It normally takes around three months to train the flocks of birds for competitions. VNS Photos Thanh Thương
In his experience, it takes around three months to train a flock of homing pigeons for sport.
“The hobby also takes time and effort. Gathering the birds into groups is one of the crucial steps to have a harmonious flock. The mother and father birds have to be strong and swift without any flaws. They are fed with sticky rice,” Hiện reveals a secret of the hobby.
“The bird must have a small shape, big chest and small eye pupils. When it is held by its raisers, if its wings grasp or even clasp his hands, it will be an excellent race pigeon,” he adds.
Another pigeon raiser from Việt Hùng Commune in Quế Võ District, Nguyễn Văn Hà, says that he has brought his birds to many provinces including Bắc Giang, Quảng Ninh, Hải Dương and Nghệ An to compete and perform in cultural events over the past 30 years.
“To win top prizes in contests, the birds must be trained to fly around the roofs by using a pole to gradually force them to fly higher and higher. When the contest begins, the contestants open the cage to send off the pigeons, and the racers must fly steadily. No bird flies lower or higher than its flock, or flies in a spiral,” he says.
According to Hà, a pair of race pigeons costs around VNĐ200,000 (US$8.7) but a pair that has won prizes in contests might be more costly, about VNĐ3,000,000 ($131).
Some pairs of pigeons are even valued up to VNĐ30 million ($1,300), but rarely do their owners agree to sell them.
At present, about 600 people raise nearly 1,000 flocks of 10,000 homing pigeons and pursue the hobby professionally in Bắc Ninh.
According to Nguyễn Thành Sơn, vice chairman of the Bắc Ninh Association of Ornamental Creatures, the hobby of raising homing pigeons has grown in the province in recent years.
“Homing pigeon race is not only a traditional hobby but also showcases the cultural beauty of Bắc Ninh residents. To encourage this hobby, the Bắc Ninh Association of Ornamental Creatures will continue to organise contests regularly. Additionally, the contestants will be supported financially while the clubs will be expanded to create more interesting and healthful recreational areas for locals,” Sơn says.
He adds that the province has organised pigeon contests in many public places such as Nguyễn Văn Cừ Park, Lý Thái Tổ Monument and Kinh Bắc Cultural Centre since May this year.
“Such contests will also help to create a cultural highlight of Bắc Ninh City, contributing to building a peaceful, beautiful and modern city as well as developing local tourism in the upcoming years,” he says. VNS