Boy oh boy! Unseemly skirmish over a shredded mat

By Ngoc Thanh   February 14, 2019 | 07:45 am GMT+7

At the Duc But festival in Vinh Phuc Province, villagers push, pull and compete for mat pieces believed to help beget boys.

Boy oh boy! Unseemly skirmish over a shredded mat

A group of men wear costumes for the Duc But festival in the northern province of Vinh Phuc, one and a half hour northwest of Hanoi.

The Duc But festival is an annual event held in Phu Lien Village, Tam Duong District, Vinh Phuc Province. It is celebrated on the eighth day of the first lunar month, which is Tuesday. It honors Princess Ngoc Kinh’s recruiting of soldiers, formation of armies, forging of weapons and similar activities around 2,000 years ago. Legend has it that the Vietnamese female general hid herself from the world by living as a nun in the Phu Lien Pagoda.

Ironically, the festival that celebrates a princess’s heroism is also associated with the belief that one of its rituals will help people beget male progeny.

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From left to right: Ngo Trung Hai, 18, Nguyen Duc Hoan, 18, and Tran Trong Huong, 16, are chosen to become the festival's "But," meaning "The Enlightened."

The chosen "But" must be from families that have both sons and daughters and are loved and respected by the community.

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As part of the festival's rituals, the "But" are cleansed at the village's communal well.

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... and covered in mud from a paddy field near a local pagoda or temple.

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The "But" are then escorted from the paddy field to a shrine.

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Inside the shrine, the "But" are covered with torn up mats while people beat drums and cheer around them.

People would later fight for these mats, because it is believed that whoever possesses them will get sons.

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The mats are thrown out to the shrine's front yard where people scramble to get them.

Last year, the culture ministry has asked that the mats be torn into small pieces so that all people attending the ritual could get a piece, preventing the fights that break out over whole mats, which is "unbecoming for a traditional Vietnamese festival."

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People fight each other to protect their hard-earned mat threads and pieces.

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A man gets squashed as people jostle for pieces of the mats used in the ritual.

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Chaos ensues.

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Two women laugh, holding pieces of mat in their hands.

"Every year we come to this festival, not to fight for mats but to pick up the pieces on the ground. We bring it home to gift our children, grandchildren and neighbors. We come here mostly for the New Year atmosphere," said one.

Vietnam currently suffers a worrying gender imbalance, with as many as 4.3 million men likely to remain lifelong bachelors in the next 30 years, according to the Health Ministry.

The long-standing cultural preference for boys in Vietnam is mainly to blame for this skewed ration, experts have said.

 
 
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