Story: NGUYEN PHUOC BAO DAN
Photos: PHAM PHUNG
Every year, on the 11 th and 12 th days of the second lunar month, residents of Thu Bon Dong Village in Quang Nam Province hold the Lady Thu Bon Festival.
The province of Quang Nam is geologically and culturally divided into sub-regions with distinct characteristics, including mountains, hills (midlands), deltas, coastal areas, islands, and archipelagos. Nevertheless, the boundaries become blurred due to the deep and wide rivers that run from west to east. The Thu Bon is one such river. Each year, communities living along its banks hold several festivals, including the Ba Thu Bon (Lady Thu Bon) Festival, celebrated on the 11 th and 12 th days of the second lunar month by the residents of Thu Bon Dong Village in Duy Tan Commune, Duy Xuyen District.
PARAGON OF CHASTITY AND VIRTUES
There are many legends surrounding Lady Thu Bon, but it is worth noting that, despite being ordained as a high-ranking deity during King Minh Mang’s reign and granted the official title “My duc Thuc hanh Bo Bo phu nhan thuong dang than” (The Great Madame Bo Bo, Paragon of Chastity and Virtues), locals still refer to her by a simple name associated with one of Quang Nam’s most famous rivers: Lady Thu Bon. According to legend, this goddess is of Cham origin and was adapted during the establishment of settlements in Quang Nam. The goddess was then worshipped as the protector of both farming and fishing communities. Residents of Thu Bon Dong Village begin preparing for the Ba Thu Bon Festival right after the Lunar New Year. The election of the chief priest is especially important as the candidate must meet stringent criteria, such as having deep experience and knowledge of village customs, rituals and production skills; being highly respected; and having a harmonious family. As a result, the person chosen to serve as the chief priest will be a source of pride for both their family and clan. Members of the ceremonial board and the musical band (phuong bat am) are also elected, while other men are responsible for transporting the palanquin during the festival.
Lễ rước sắc (a ceremony to transport the ordinance that honors the goddess) begins on the afternoon of the 11 day of the second lunar month. The procession departs from th the house of the ordinance-keeper along the village’s main road, carrying imperial banners, five-color flags, command drums, dragon palanquins, and other decorations. Upon reaching the temple’s yard, the keeper carries the box containing the letter, places it on the main altar, and is in charge of guarding the box until the festival ends.
Lễ tiên thường (a death anniversary ceremony) is usually held before the Lễ chánh tế (main ceremony), with offerings including vegetarian dishes. The main ceremony takes place in the middle of the night, with offerings from the Ca families (wealthy, well-educated families in the village), the Dong Canh families (various other villagers), and the Tu families (individua
During the festival, large numbers of residents gather at the temple of Lady Thu Bon to make offerings. They are employed in various occupations, such as trading, farming, and fishing. Owners of fishing boats on the Thu Bon River, in particular
The festival’s rituals demand the presence of the chief, assistant chief, east and west facilitators (those standing to the east and west of the altar) and include several ceremonies like the Lễ nghinh thần (an invitation to other deities to participate in the ceremony), Lễ túc yết (offerings), and finally the Lễ hồi sắc (a ceremony to return the ordination letter to its original place). At the end of the ceremony, all offerings to Lady Thu Bon are cooked and eaten by villagers and pilgrims with wishes for luck, peace, and good fortune.
BOAT RACES AND FESTIVITIES
Aside from its spiritual significance, the Lady Thu Bon Festival attracts tourists from all over the world with its exciting boat races, held on a section of the Thu Bon River in front of the goddess’ temple. After the boat races, night falls and boi singing (also known as tuong singing) begins. These performances typically last from three to four days. Villagers from all walks of life flock to the temple to watch and participate in a floating lantern festival, while fortune tellers seek to foretell the new year. The Lady Thu Bon Festival is an example of a well-preserved cultural community activity in Quang Nam. This event harmoniously combines ceremonial aspects and entertainment, reflecting the spiritual and religious needs of people in this river basin. Based on these criteria, the Lady Thu Bon Festival was recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in 2020.
Viet people successfully integrated and transformed many indigenous cultural values during their southward expansion. Lady Thu Bon is a typical example of goddess worship in the Central region, where cultural amalgamation and transformation have been intense.