Phần 2Phần 3

Part 3 – Festivals

The Ooc-Om Bok festival with Boat racing

Ooc-Om-Bok Festival is a religious service that worships the moon deity of the Khmer minority group and prays for good luck, happiness, good weather and bumper crops. The festival is usually held when the dry season begins and rice is ripening in the fields.


The main purpose of this festival is to pray to the Moon God for abundant crops and fish from the rivers, as well as good health for the villagers. When the moon begins to appear on the 15th day of the 12th month of bouddhist calendar (equivalent to 10th month of lunar calendar), people place trays of offerings composed of green rice flakes, ripe bananas, fresh coconut and potatoes in the pagoda yard.
The Moon-worshipping ceremony takes place on the evening of 14th of tenth lunar month before the moon is full. The ceremony is held in the yards of the pagoda or in people’s houses. People erect bamboo poles with a crossbar on which they decorate with flowers and leaves. Below the poles is a table of offerings that include green rice flakes, potatoes, bananas, coconuts, grapefruits, oranges and cakes. People sit on the ground with their legs crossed, clasping their hands before the altar and look up to the Moon. An old master of ceremonies says his prayers, asks the moon deity to receive the offerings and bless people with the best of fortune. [16]
After the ceremony, the elders ask the children of the house to sit flatly on the ground, legs crossed, before the altar. The elders then take a handful of green rice, feed each child and ask them what they wish while clapping their backs. If the children answer the question clearly and politely, all the best of luck will come to them that year. After that, people enjoy the offerings together, and children play games or dance and sing in the moonlight. Anyone who visits the Khmer’s houses on this occasion will have a chance to taste com dep (a kind of young sticky rice). At the pagodas of Khmer people, locals hold paper-lantern releasing into the sky and putting on the rivers. The custom of releasing flying lights and floating lights is believed to sweep away the darkness, impure and sadness from the village. Many traditional activities of the Khmer are organized on the evening of 14th.
In parallel Soc Trang’s inhabitants also organized “ghe ngo” boat race with the participation of many teams from the neighbouring village or provinces. Prior to pull Ghe Ngo to the water, athletes must do rehearsal by swimming on the wood platform assembled in the large ditch. This phase is mainly to synchronize the rhythm of the team’s members and improving the captain command. A week before the race, the monks just made a ceremony "Niec" allowing teams to set foot in the river water. When racing, the objective of the boat is trying to get the best water lanes. Before the race it is absolutely not to allow the opponent's nose touched their “ghe ngo” because they feared of "bad luck" as ghe ngo could sometimes be broken. As a tradition, when the two boats are on the race and if there is an intentional hit from one of those boats which tried to touch others. In this case the referee would judge “equal” ranking for both boats.
During the boat race, the driver directs the boat on the right track to match the rhythm of the team as determination of performance. The boat speed might reach over 30km/h. The boat could easily turn up side down with bad command, especially in the turnaround. The boat construction technique is quite a secret only known by artists, especially the art of using resilient wood to build boat. In order to get the command position, the commander not only a person with strength but he also must be a great volunteer of their village, having good efforts and good financial situation.
For a distance of about 5km along the waterfront, the street is very crowded with the fans which made noise of the animated "Moon River". It is very hard to set foot on the grand stand, many people have climbed to the roof, on the trees or swim into the river to see boat race. During the night prior to the race, thousands of Khmer people who could not sleep roamed and wandered in the streets in order to see the Soc Trang City Performing Arts and ethnic costumes show of SocTrang province.

Buddhism and Lady Chúa Xứ Temple

Buddhist ideology does not advocate the practice of worshipping God in a physical form. Hence, quite often, it is not really seen as a religion in the normal sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical - nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. It teaches practical methods, such as meditation, which enable people to realize and utilize its teachings in order to transform their experience. They are taught to be fully responsible for their lives and to develop the qualities of wisdom and compassion.
According to my memory Southwestern inhabitants celebrated 2 major festivals, after Chinese New Year – Buddha’s birthday and pilgrimage to “Bà Chúa xứ” temple. The Buddha's birthday festival was held in our country in large scale and considered as a national festival, because in fact from early Buddhism introduction to the Southerners the Buddha's birthday ceremony was already honoured. The Buddha image was displayed to Buddhist for public admiration in order to show the Buddhist spirit and the morphology of living faiths. Therefore Buddha anniversary festival is essential to Southwesterners. On one hand it helps people when they see the Buddha image then they will find the Buddha's in themselves, then, on other hand this will help to communicate across all levels of society and get them closer together in the spirit of compassion, wisdom, selfishless with a proverb as "wherever one works, on April 8th , everyone should gather in the pagoda"
Annually from the 25th to 27th of the fourth month, local people and countless pilgrims from the Southern provinces flock to the Bà Chúa Xứ temple in Châu Đốc. This custom existed for hundreds of years. We cannot wait until the next morning to go for a long pilgrimage. Thousands of pilgrims took the road with one goal in mind, flocking to Châu Đốc city to celebrate “Vía Bà Chúa Xứ”. We just intend to give readers the overview of Buddhism in Vietnam, this article focuses mainly on the great times and significant events that have great impacts on Southwesterner’s life.
Today we are living in a stressful world where people have to work very hard physically and mentally. The keen competition happens everywhere. People’s daily life is full of mental frustration, worries, miseries, anxieties, tension and fear. Therefore those rituals provide us the meditation and relaxation moments for our own wellness.
According to one writer, the most important thought in all religions is the "self-belief" or self-confidence. It can be a powerful belief in God, in Buddha or most importantly the self-confidence. To have self-confidence one must first manage to succeed, or to know his strength and beauty in his heart. To gain the "self-confidence" we have to live fully at every moment of our life, learn how to be useful to ourselves and others. We must let our selfishness go away and be ready to integrate to our community. If we have such a solid inner life, the self-confidence is not an issue anymore. Then the self-confidence with knowledge is always an important element of success...

Final Thoughts

If each of us could see that our life is driven apart from the evolving way of life of Viet Nam, we will soon remember that we need to be back to “our homeland” to look after the “land of our ancestors” and eventuallygo back to Southwestern region where our ancestors had worked hard to develop and build our homeland. It is like having the Chinese Emperor who built Great China, Sun Emperor representing Japan, the Dragon King and the Fairy Lady who are ancestors of vietnamese people.
As a child originated from Southwestern region, I always have the pride of our beloved Southwest land with unforgettable childhood nostalgia. Living among diverse communities with many different nationalities, we are very proud of our Vietnamese identity and among Vietnamese community, we take pride to being a Southwestern child.
The country’s nostalgia lies in our blood. The Southwestern region is the place where we were born and raised, where there were a lot of fields filled with golden color paddy, with birds flying high and green fruits, where the kids enjoyed swimming in the river reminding us that relatives are still living there. It is compared to an expatriate who never forget his famous folk verses (ca dao), the Southern “vọng cổ” of somebody on the river, the lyrical poem sung by a mother in a hot afternoon in the Southern region and the Vietnamese culture…
When we live abroad, well influenced by the western culture, we used to compare the new civilized life as “eating Chinese foods, living in French home and deserving American-style amenities”, but at the end,” we all want to go back to live in our homeland”. The immortal saying does not suggest that our Southwestern region’s life is better than occidental countries. In reality our Southwestern people are still very poor, our beloved country is still very much lack of physical comforts. Therefore we always have a wish to see our Southwestern people’s life getting better... As former Southwesterners living abroad this is our responsibility to preserve, promote and expand our Southwestern Culture identity…
To close the detailed memory of a mid-50’s men story from overseas, dreaming to understand the origin of Southwestern region, the famous popular verses (vong co), the ‘bong bong’s sound of ghe ngo boat embedded in the memory, and the unforgetable peaceful life of the village, I thought that when the culture is lost, people will no longer recognize their identity, the youth of the next generation will wonder where our culture comes from and where we are heading to….

Nguyễn Hồng Phúc
Chinese New Year 2010 – Tiger
Commented and edited by a former group of Hoàng Diệu and Taberd:
- Nguyễn Chí Thân (Taberd 58-62)
- Nguyễn Thị Tuyết
- Cathy Phan
- Huỳnh Ngọc Minh
- Trần Thu Hương

Reference Documents:
  1. Tìm hiểu đất Hậu Giang – Nhà Xuất bản Phù Sa, Sài gòn 1959, Sơn Nam, trang 25-35
  2. Việt Nam Sử Lược – Trần Trọng Kim. Bộ Giáo-Dục Trung Tâm Học Liệu, 1960. trang 137, 139, 140
  3. VietNam Tourist Guidebook
  12. Lịch sử Việt Nam – Phan Huy Lê, Trần Quốc Vượng, Hà Văn Tấn, Lương Ninh. Nhà Xuất bản Đại Học Chuyên Nghiệp Hà Nội 1991
  13. Việt Nam Văn Học Sử Yếu – Dương Quãng Hàm. 1941 Nhà Xuất bản Xuân Thu
  14. A History of VietNam from Hong Bang to Tu Duc - Oscar Chapuis, Greenwood Press 1995
  15. Việt Sử Toàn Thư - Từ Thượng Cổ đến Hiện Đại – Phạm Văn Sơn, Nhà Xuất bản Xuân Thu, 1960, trang 370
  16. đọc từ tài liệu Internet
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Cập nhật 12-10-2012