A Hoang Sa tribute ritual was held on Ly Son island, offshore the central province of Quang Ngai, on April 28-29.
The Paracel soldier East and Commemoration Festival, which has been held annually for hundreds of years on the province’s island district of Ly Son, is a tribute to sailor-soldiers in the Hoang Sa Contingent who crossed the water to Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago to mine its natural resources and safeguard the country’s sovereignty.
According to the Vietnamese feudal state’s history, the Hoang Sa flotilla was set up when Lords Nguyen began their reign in the south of the country. The troops have operated on the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagos over the past three centuries since the time from Nguyen Lords through the Tay Son and then the Nguyen dynasties. The Hoang Sa flotilla was then also assigned to control Bac Hai (Truong Sa).
Vo Hien Dat, an elder of Ly Son island, said the rituals became part of the islanders’ life right after the sailor-soldiers sailed to Hoang Sa since the time when Lord Nguyen governed southern Vietnam more than three centuries ago.
The festival took place solemnly with the participation of the islander community to commemorate to the soldiers who laid down their lives to defend the country’s waters, he said.
The annual festival is not only meant to honour those who died protecting the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos hundreds of years ago, but is an opportunity to educate the younger generation in patriotism, he added.
During the rituals, votive boats, offerings, and clay effigies of sailors, are launched into the sea.
In the past, rudimentary bamboo sail boats were the main means of transport to and from Hoang Sa, and the voyage could be hazardous. To reassure those who were chosen to go to Hoang Sa, the votive boats and effigies were made to turn bad luck upon them, rather than the soldiers guarding the archipelago. Thus, the ritual is also meant to commemorate earlier soldiers lost at sea.
Director of Quang Ngai Culture, Sports and Tourism Department Dr. Nguyen Dang Vu, who is an expert on sea and island culture, said that in addition to the festival, the province has also inaugurated a collection of historical and cultural relics from the Hoang Sa-Truong Sa fleet, including the An Vinh Communal House, a statue depicting the fleet, a museum containing valuable documents, the empty tombs of some of the leading sailors and a temple honouring the sailors.
Also at the event, the province presented a certificate of merit to the Dang family who preserved and donated valuable historical documents relating to Vietnam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos
The festival, the largest of its kind, is a preparation for the sea and island festival scheduled for Ly Son island in 2012, occasioned by the 180th anniversary of the establishment of the province of Quang Ngai.