For generations of fishing folk in Do Son, a beachside town outside Hai Phong on the far north coast, the spectacle of two buffalo engaged in fierce combat has symbolized their valiant spirit whenever they confront the gales and frenzy of the high seas.
That’s why they hold a buffalo fighting festival on the ninth day of the eighth lunar month every year. According to some long-standing families in Do Son, the festival probably originated 15 centuries ago, when Do Son was sparsely populated.
Buffalo fights have been closely connected with Do Son’s inhabitants for generations. Everyone from the elderly to the very young sees them as an indispensable part of life as they symbolize the people’s physical and spiritual strength.
The animals themselves are sacred to the locals, who refer to them individually as “Mr. Buffalo”.
To prepare for the unique event, the town’s residents make their choice buffalo purchases at least eight months in advance. Not every buffalo can be turned into a fighter; the right one must have a long and round neck, wide buttocks and long thighs. To buy a clinking buffalo, the experts travel to the highlands and even as far as Laos in search of strong, quick, dogged beasts aged between eight and ten years.
Next comes the training, which is the most important stage in converting a peace-loving creature into a fearless combatant. During this time, the animals are kept in separate pens that only their carers and trainers can enter.
|Two buffalo lock horns to decide the victor in a fierce combat|
Every morning, the buffalo are led around the streets to get them used to crowds, noise and traffic. In the afternoon, the trainers blindfold their charges with red fabric and strike gongs and beat drums noisily in front of the pen. By doing so, the animals get accustomed to a festive atmosphere and become more ferocious at the same time.
Before 1990, buffalo fights were a village affair. They only became a national drawcard after the local authorities enrolled the aid of Tien Phong newspaper to publicize the festival and enhance its importance. Nowadays, Do Son is recognized as one of Vietnam’s 15 national traditional festivals.
There are two rounds of buffalo fights. The first takes place on the eighth day of the sixth lunar month and whittles the number of contestants down to 16 for the final, which will be on September 19 this year.
After the fighting is done and a victor declared, all the contestants are killed and cooked for the spectators to eat as buffalo meat is viewed as having a spiritual significance.
Mr. Hoang Dinh Binh, who chairs the festival’s organizing committee, says that all this year’s finalists are healthy and without any trace of disease.
Many of the regular spectators reckon this year will be the best ever as the contestants are in superb condition. So, why not buy a plane ticket and enjoy the exciting atmosphere at Do Son? That’s if you can get there in time.