On Vietnam’s southern coast, a cemetery for whales

By Truong Ha   June 16, 2020 | 07:58 am GMT+7

Hundreds of whales have been buried and worshipped like ancestors at a fishing village in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province.

The cemetery spreads 2,000 square meters in Phuoc Hai Fishing Village in Dat Do District of Ba Ria-Vung Tau that neighbors Ho Chi Minh City. Established in 1999, this place is where 455 whales are laid to rest. Villagers and fishermen believe that whales embody what is holy and luck and for that, they worship the whales, either alive or dead.To fishermen in Vietnam, especially on the central and southern coasts, the whale is not just any animal; it is worshiped as Ca Ong, or Lord Whale, who protects them at sea. Ca Ong is a deity who helps them overcome all hazards at sea, and so fishermen pray to the whale for a safe trip every time they go fishing. This is a practice that has been in vogue for generations.To Phuoc Hai villagers, whales are also Ca Ong. The first one to find a whale die would be treated as the oldest child in the family and must mourn the death with all ritual as applied for the funeral of a parent or grandparent.

The cemetery spreads 2,000 square meters in Phuoc Hai fishing village in Dat Do District. Since it was built 21 years ago 455 whales have been buried here. Fishermen believe whales are sacred and bring them luck, and so worship the creatures both alive and dead.
To fishermen in Vietnam, especially on the central and southern coasts, the whale is worshiped as Ca Ong, or "Lord Whale", who protects them at sea. Fishermen pray to the whale for a safe trip every time they go fishing. This is a practice that has been in vogue for generations.
Phuoc Hai villagers are no exception. A person who spots a dead whale has the responsibility to mourn the death with all the rituals carried out when his/her parent or grandparent passes away.

On each of the grave, villagers not the date when the whale was found dead, and the name of the owner of the boat that detected the incident. Danh Huong, 70, who is in charge of taking care of the cemetery, said tens of whales were found dead each year, mostly in the beginning months the year.

On each grave, villagers note the date the whale was found dead, and the name of the owner of the boat that found it. Danh Huong, 70, who takes care of the cemetery, says tens of whales wash up every year along the beach in Phuoc Hai village, mostly at the beginning of the year.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Uyen, 30, a villager, prays at one of a grave as she offers burning incense sticks. She asks for protection and luck for her husband and brothers who are offshore to catch seafood in the water off Con Dao Archipelago.Last year, my family’s fishing boat brought two dead Ca Ong back to the shore for burying and mourning. We have been offering flowers and fruits every month to worship them, she said.

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Uyen, 30, a villager, prays at one of the graves with incense sticks. She asks for protection and luck for her husband and brothers who are out fishing off Con Dao Archipelago.
She says: "Last year my family’s fishing boat brought two dead Ca Ong back to the shore for burying and mourning. We have been offering flowers and fruits every month to worship them."

In the middle of the cemetery lies a temple to worship the Ca Ong.

Inside the cemetery is a temple to worship Ca Ong. The cemetery was recognized the biggest one of its kind in Vietnam in 2011.

Inside the temple, villagers lay photos, statues and bones of whales. Fishermen come here to pray for peace and luck every time they are about to set sail.

Inside the temple, villagers place photos, statues and bones of whales. Fishermen come here to pray for peace and luck every time they are about to go fishing.
Every year on the sixth day of the last lunar month, the village holds a whale veneration festival to worship all the whales that have died and those who are still out there in the sea.

A palace to worship whales that has existed since the 19th century.Nguyen Ngoc The, head manager at the palace, said whales were initially buried inside the precinct of the place but 21 years ago, villagers had reclaimed the land next to the palace and turn it into a cemetery for whales, the biggest of its kind in Vietnam.

A larger temple to worship whales built in the 19th century.
Nguyen Ngoc The, who takes care of it, says whales were initially buried inside, but 21 years ago villagers built the land next to it into the cemetery.

A whale skeleton of two meters long is polished and placed at an important position inside the palace. This is what’s left of a whale that was washed ashore 24 years ago. As the fish was still alive, villagers have pushed it back to the sea but then, it returned and eventually died.

A two-meter-long whale skeleton that was polished and placed inside the temple. This whale washed ashore 24 years ago, still alive. Villagers pushed it back into the sea, but it returned and eventually died.

Some fishermen exhume the grave after three years and bring the remaining of whales to the palace for more worship.

Some fishermen exhume whales’ graves after three years and bring the remains to the palace to venerate.

The said he had 44 years sailing, and there were two times his boat almost sunk due to the rough sea. As I pray for the Ca Ong, the boat Those times I thought there was no chance for us to survive, yet after I pray to Ca Ong for a while, the boat emerged a little bit, and then I was rescued.Now that his son has inherited the boat and the family’s business, Dinh volunteers to work at the palace as a way to pray for his son.

The says he had been a fisherman for 44 years, and on two occasions his boat almost sunk in rough seas. "I thought there was no chance for us to survive, yet after I pray to Ca Ong for a while, the boat rose up from the water and then I was rescued."
After his son took over the boat and the family’s business, Dinh volunteered to work at the temple to be able to pray for his son.

 
 
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