Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Archipelago’s Soldiers Held

The traditional ceremony held annually for hundreds of years on the island is a tribute to the sailor-soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country, and proves Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago.

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Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Archipelago's Soldiers Held
Ly Son district is currently home to two festivals named national intangible cultural heritages, Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Soldiers and Tu Linh boat racing festival. Photo: VNA

The “Le khao le the linh Hoang Sa” (Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Soldiers) took place at An Vinh communal house in Ly Son district, the central province of Quang Ngai, on May 5 or 16th days of the third lunar month, reported VNA.

The event is to pay tribute to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives over the centuries guarding the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly).

It has been observed through over 400 years by communities on Ly Son island and many coastal areas in the province. It was recognized as a national intangible cultural heritage by the State in 2013.

Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Archipelago's Soldiers Held
The “Le khao le the linh Hoang Sa” (Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Soldiers) took place at An Vinh communal house in Ly Son district on May 5. Photo: VNA

During the rituals, paper boats with effigies of sailors are launched into the seas and respects are paid to the lost sailors’ symbolic tombs.

According to Vietnam’s feudal state history, the Hoang Sa Flotilla was set up in 17th century when the Nguyen Lords began their reign in the south of the country.

Thousands of sailors braved roaring waves and storms to survey sea routes, plant markers and erect steles affirming the national sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa. These areas were secured marine resources under the order of the Nguyen Lords. Their missions were full of danger, and many of them never returned to land.

Therefore, before the soldiers left for their missions, a feast was held for them, hence the beginning of the tradition.

Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Archipelago's Soldiers Held
Paper boats with effigies of sailors are launched into the seas and respects are paid to the lost sailors’ symbolic tombs. Photo: VNA

The festival reflects Vietnam’s history of protecting the national sovereignty in the East Sea, especially over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa.

After the commemoration on the day, the Tu Linh boat race was held to pray for a year of favourable weather and bumper catches ahead. The festival is called Tu Linh because the racing boats are decorated with symbolic shapes of the quartet of mythological creatures in Vietnam’s traditions and beliefs including the dragon, qilin, tortoise, and phoenix.

Ly Son island, 30km off the coast of Quang Ngai province, covers an area of less than 10 sq.km but it has nearly 100 relics, most of which are related to the Hoang Sa Flotilla, such as the empty graves built for Hoang Sa soldiers who never returned to land, the temples dedicated to Pham Quang Anh and Vo Van Khiet who were captains of the Hoang Sa Flotilla, and a showroom displaying the items of the Hoang Sa Flotilla sailors who also controlled Bac Hai and Ba Ri Lagoon.

A monument and memorial house dedicated to the Hoang Sa Flotilla stand near the main road of the island.

Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Archipelago's Soldiers Held
The event includes a ritual of releasing model wooden boats carrying soldiers and sailors out to sea. Photo: VNA

According to old documents, the Tu Linh (four mythological creatures – dragon, qilin, tortoise, phoenix) boat racing festival on Ly Son Island was first held in 1826.

It takes place around the Lunar New Year festival to pray for good weather, bumper crops, and peace. It is also meant to pay tribute to ancestors who explored this land, as well as the then Hoang Sa flotilla that planted sovereignty markers on Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes frequently.

Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Archipelago's Soldiers Held
After the commemoration on the day, a boat race was held to pray for a year of favorable weather and bumper catches ahead. Source: Quang Ngai newspaper
Hannah Nguyen