Boat race festival in Ly Son Island becomes national heritage

Tu Linh boat race festival in Ly Son Island, in the central province of Quang Ngai, has been classified as national intangible cultural heritage.
April 29, 2021 | 17:30
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The festival was first held in 1826, according to Ly Son islanders. It aims to pay homage to the island's ancestral inhabitants and soldiers who have fought for national sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes, according to VnExpress.

The event is also an opportunity for local fishermen to pray for prosperity, peace and smooth voyages at sea.

Boat race festival in Ly Son Island becomes national heritage
A beach on Dao Be (Small Island) in Ly Son Island, central Vietnam. Photo by Shutterstock/Big Pearl.

Each year, from the fourth to eighth day of the first lunar month, islanders and mainland visitors flock to Ly Son for the boat race.

Eight boats participating in the race are decorated following the images of four holy beasts, including long (dragon), lan (unicorn), quy (turtle) and phung (phoenix). Before the festival opens, teams typically worship their specific gods.

Ly Son islanders believe the winning team would enjoy the most peace and prosperity during the year.

Participants should be healthy and skillful men. In the past, the boats were designed for only 14 people; however, in recent years, they have been designed to carry 24.

Ly Son lies 30 kilometers offshore and covers nearly 10 square kilometers. Formed by five mountains, four of which are dormant volcanoes, it comprises three islands including Dao Lon (Big Island), Dao Be (Small Island) and Mu Cu Islet.

The island district, formerly off the beaten track, has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Ly Son is currently home to two festivals recognized as national intangible cultural heritages, with the other being "Le khao le the linh Hoang Sa" (Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa Soldiers).

Boat race festival in Ly Son Island becomes national heritage
Photo: Bui Thanh Trung

Tu Linh boat race - a unique festival of Ly Son island district

The festival, which is a folk cultural feature imbued with the traditional identities of people on the island, aims to pay homage to natives’ ancestors who formed the island and soldiers who have fought for the country’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) archipelagoes. The event is also an opportunity for the local people to pray for prosperity, peace and smooth voyages for the fishermen.

Boat race festival in Ly Son Island becomes national heritage
Photo: Tran Mai

From Sa Ky seaport (Quang Ngai Province), it takes about one hour for visitors to get to Dao Lon (Big Island) in Ly Son. In recent years, this place has become an attractive destination for visitors, not only because of the serene and charming scenery that features on it but also the unique cultural identities, including the Tu Linh Boat Race Festival, Nhan Dan reported.

During the days ahead of Tet Festival, the bustling atmosphere is rampant on the "island of garlics". In front of the temples in An Vinh and An Hai communes, people gather together to complete the final stages of the preparations for the launching of the boat race. The boats are more sparkling and brilliant under the sea. All people eagerly wait for the festival which will kick off on the fourth day of the first lunar month. Over hundreds of years, the race has become a unique cultural and traditional activity forfishermen in the island district. Even the seniors in the locality do not know the origins of the boat race.

For the local people in Ly Son district, the Tu Linh boat race is not only a traditional community-based activity to welcome the spring but also part of their unique culture and belief, aiming to pay respect and gratitude to their ancestors and the soldiers and sailors of the Hoang Sa Flotilla who crossed the sea to measure waterways, put landmarks, protect and affirm the country’s sovereignty over the seas and islands. The festival also offers an opportunity to pray for a year of favourable wind and rain and a bumper harvest.

Boat race festival in Ly Son Island becomes national heritage
Photo: Tuoitre

Every year, from the fourth to eighth day of the first Lunarmonth, the local people and visitors from the mainland flock to Ly Son for the boat race. There are eight boats from the communes that participate in the event. They are decorated following the images of four holy beasts, including long (dragon), ly (unicorn), quy (turtle) and phung (phoenix). Before the festival opens, the teams have to worship gods with separate rituals.

Ly Son’s people believe that the village that has the winning boat will be the most peaceful and prosperous during the year. The participants should be healthy and skillful men. In the past, the boats were designed for only 14 people; however, in recent years, the boats have been built for 24 men. Each team has its own uniform with red scarves on the participants’ heads. The shouts of encouragement, along with the determination of racers, always make for a bustling and lively atmosphere during the festival.

Ly Son boat race festival has been attractive thanks to not only dramatic competition but also due to the sophisticated decorations of the boats, especially the heads and tails of the four holy beasts. It is believed the more beautiful the boats are, the more lucky the team racing will be. Therefore, only artisans with high skills can decorate the boats.

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