Villagers refuse to play ball as authorities suspend festival game

By Ngoc Thanh, Giang Huy, Viet Tuan   February 18, 2019 | 04:12 pm GMT+7

Chaos broke out a Phu Tho spring festival after authorities suspended a popular ball hunting game, citing disorder.

Villagers refuse to play ball as authorities suspend festival game

Men, mostly residents of Hien Quan Commune in Tam Nong District of the northern Phu Tho Province, shout and beat drums and gongs to protest a last-minute decision to suspend a traditional festival game - a phet stealing competition.

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The annual festival commemorates Princess Thieu Hoa, a female general who helped the Trung sisters fight the Chinese and briefly regain independence for Vietnam in 40 A.D.

The phet stealing game is held on the 12th and 13th days the first lunar month, which were last weekend, in which young men compete to secure six small bamboo balls thrown into the middle of a field for their team. Three of these are bigger balls called phet, and the three smaller ones are called chui. Possessing these balls are believed to bring luck for the New Year.

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But, on Sunday afternoon, when hundreds of men had prepared themselves for the second day of the phet competition, organizers suddenly announced that the game has been suspended.

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The decision angered locals and many of them raised their voices against police and local authorities.

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They said that without the phet stealing competition, they would not go home.

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Traditionally, the phet stealing contest is held right after the elders finish conducting rituals at the communal house. On Sunday, police had to surround the house to protect it from the protestors.

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It took almost three hours for the authorities to persuade the men to give up their protest and go home.

The Tam Nong People’s Committee explained that the commune authorities had failed Saturday to maintain order and ensure security during the first day, as they had pledged to do.

For years, the phet stealing competition in Phu Tho has been criticized for getting violent and competitors getting injured. The culture ministry had requested Phu Tho Province several times to make adjustments to the festival.

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This year, Hien Quan Commune authorities had decided to organize the game differently. Instead of a free for all, it chose ten men each from 14 residential areas and divided them into two teams. But once the competition started, other men not selected for the competition also rushed into the field. The police could not hold them back, and chaos ensued.

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Fighting broke out, as it has done in previous years, on the fields of Hien Quan on Saturday, with people disregarding safety as they fought for the lucky balls.

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In the end, a man not chosen to participate in the game found one of the balls.

Nguyen Dac Thuy, director of Phu Tho’s culture department, said a plan had been made to ensure more security for the phet stealing competition this year, but local authorities had failed to perform their tasks well. He said further that if Tam Nong District cannot improve the situation, it is possible that the phet stealing game is banned in coming years.

 
 
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