Celebrating the Culture of the Vietnamese Southwest River Region: A Special Festival

Every year, the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang holds a festival to honor the memory of national hero Nguyen Trung Truc.

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According to SGGPO, a solemn event was organized in Rach Gia City, Kien Giang province, to mark the 155th death anniversary of the esteemed national hero, Nguyen Trung Truc. The ceremony took place on October 10-12, corresponding to the 26th – 28th days of the eighth month in the lunar calendar.

This year’s commemoration is organized on a large scale to celebrate an event that has been officially recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Nguyen Trung Truc (1839–1868) was a prominent figure in the anti-French colonial resistance movement in South Vietnam. He is well-known for his powerful statement, “Only when every blade of grass in Vietnam is uprooted will there be no Vietnamese left to fight against the aggressors.” Unfortunately, he was captured and executed by the French in Rach Gia at the young age of 30.

Unique Festival of River Region of Vietnamese Southwest Region
Deputy Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hoang Dao Cuong (second from left) awarded the certificate of national intangible cultural heritage “Nguyen Trung Truc Festival – Rach Gia, Kien Giang province” to leaders of Kien Giang province. Source: Kien Giang newspaper

The event spanned over three days and featured a diverse range of cultural activities. These activities included art programs and ceremonial offerings, as well as the 8th Mekong Delta art photo exhibition. In addition, there was a Vietnamese traditional martial arts (Vovinam) tournament, a trade and tourism fair, and performances of don ca tai tu (Southern amateur music), kylin and dragon dance, and much more.

The organizer stated that the festival is supported by several sponsors and approximately 3,000 volunteers. They come together to provide local residents with complimentary vegetarian meals, medical check-ups, and necessary medications.

Previously, on February 2, 2023, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism made the decision to include the Nguyen Trung Truc Festival in Kien Giang on the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List. This festival is a traditional event that commemorates the sacrifice of National Hero Nguyen Trung Truc.

On the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Sacrifice of National Hero Nguyen Trung Truc, the festival was elevated to a prominent event in the province. Ever since, the festival has been regularly organized and has grown into a regional celebration, attracting a large number of attendees from various provinces and cities in the Southern region.

Unique Festival of River Region of Vietnamese Southwest Region
From early morning, people marched from Lac Hong – Nguyen Trung Truc intersection to the place where the Incense Offering Ceremony took place. Source: Kien Giang newspaper
Unique Festival of River Region of Vietnamese Southwest Region
Dance performers on the street. Source: Kien Giang newspaper

Heroic Rescue at Blazing Building

According to VNS, Nguyen Trung Truc (1837-1868) was born into a fisherman family in Gia Dinh, which is currently known as Ben Lec district in Long An province.

In 1859, he was recruited as a soldier under Truong Dinh’s insurgent force against the French.

In 1861, Truc assembled a group of local farmers to defend against the French in Tan An (now known as Long An) and Rach Gia (now known as Kien Giang).

Due to his numerous successes, King Tu Duc in Hue promoted Truc to the position of Military Chief, tasked with safeguarding sovereignty in Ha Tien.

At the end of 1861, Truc’s force, along with Truong Dinh’s troops, launched an attack on and successfully destroyed the warship L’Esperance belonging to the French navy. This occurred in Nhat Tao (Ben Luc) on December 10, 1861. The battle resulted in the loss of several French soldiers’ lives.

During the historic signing of the Nham Tuat Agreement in 1862, the Hue Court was compelled to cede three provinces in the southeast to the French. In the aftermath, Nguyen Trung Truc was appointed as a distinguished military leader in the Gia Dinh and Bien Hoa region.

On June 23, 1867, following the loss of Ha Tien to the French, Truc strategically withdrew his troops to Rach Gia and subsequently established a robust military base in Hon Chong to sustain resistance efforts.

On June 16, 1868, Truc’s insurgents launched an attack on the Rach Gia military station of the French, resulting in the deaths of the provincial governor of Rach Gia, five French officers, and 67 soldiers. The insurgents successfully seized a significant amount of weapons and gained control of Rach Gia for a period of five days. This violent incident posed a major threat to the French colonial regime and was subsequently documented in French military history.

Two days later, additional troops were sent from Vinh Long to Rach Gia by the French army headquarters in My Tho. Despite brave resistance and fierce counter-attacks by Truc’s army, they were ultimately forced to retreat to Hon Chong (Kien Luong).

The recapture of Kien Giang Military Station by the French on June 21, 1868

Following the successful recapture of Kien Giang Military Station by the French on June 21, 1868, their relentless pursuit of Vietnamese insurgents in Hon Chong continued.

In August 1868, Truc’s force had to evacuate from Hon Chong to Phu Quoc Island and established a base in a forest in what is now Cua Can Commune.

The French military launched an assault on the base, resulting in the capture of Truc’s mother and the families of his soldiers as a means to compel surrender.

Nguyen Trung Truc and his troops were compelled to surrender in order to safeguard the lives of their families.

In September 1868, Nguyen Trung Truc was brought to Sai Gon, where he confronted the French adversary for the last time in his life. He boldly declared, “It is only when there is no grass left in Vietnam that there will be no more Vietnamese fighting against foreign invaders.”

The French subsequently executed him at Rach Gia Market on October 27, 1868.

Unique Festival of River Region of Vietnamese Southwest Region
At the incense offering ceremony on October 11. Source: Kien Giang newspaper

Start of India’s Grandest Festival

There are several temples dedicated to the courageous hero in Kien Giang and Long An provinces. These include his hometown temple in Long An, the temple in Rach Gia where he tragically lost his life, and the temple in Ganh Dau – Phu Quoc where his final battle took place.

Every year, on his death anniversary, the river region of the Southwest region hosts one of the largest festivals in honor of him. Over 1 million pilgrims gather to offer incense, commemorate his life, and pay tribute to his great merits.

The Director of Kien Giang Department of Culture and Sports, Nguyen Van Sau, highlighted the distinctive aspect of the Nguyen Trung Truc Festival as the close-knit community bond fostered by the voluntary spirit and active participation of the people involved.

By doing so, the festival helps to strengthen solidarity and foster a strong sense of community. It also promotes the role and involvement of the people in preserving and promoting cultural heritage values. The festival has also become a significant symbol of patriotism and Vietnamese national pride in the Southwest region of the country.

Since 2006, Kien Giang province has been diligently organizing the Nguyen Trung Truc Festival, with the exception of the years impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Unique Festival of River Region of Vietnamese Southwest Region
Many people came to offer incense to national hero Nguyen Trung Truc. Source: Kien Giang newspaper

Visitors to the Nguyen Trung Truc Festival are provided with complimentary vegetarian meals and beverages. Both residents of the province and individuals from outside graciously contributed their time and resources to prepare these meals. Together, they cooked and prepared the offerings.

Every year, the festival welcomes an incredible number of volunteers, ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 individuals. Together, they work tirelessly to ensure that approximately 1 million free meals are served to festival-goers. What makes this feat even more remarkable is the fact that all these efforts are entirely voluntary, showcasing the incredible generosity and unity that define the cultural essence of the Southwest region’s river community.

Festivals associated with relics are traditional cultural events cherished by the people of Kien Giang and are considered valuable cultural assets for the entire Vietnamese population. These festivals exemplify the diverse ethnicities, beliefs, and religions that exist amongst the Vietnamese-Chinese-Khmer communities, showcasing the harmonious and unified spirit of the participants.

The festival possesses a unique quality resulting from the combination of traditional patriotic culture with elements of folk belief culture. This distinct feature is in line with the cultural characteristics of the working majority in the southern region, significantly influencing the spiritual well-being of the people and captivating them with its allure.

Hannah Nguyen