Festival of Quan Lan Village

Quan Lan is an island located in the Bay of Bai Tu Long, where vast mountains, sea and land merge to form a perfect beauty in a rarely prosperous land. Nearly one thousand years ago, Quan Lan was the centre of Van Don commercial port, a very busy harbor which received many foreign traders. At present Quan Lan belongs to Van Don district, Quang Ninh province. Quan Lan is 120 km away from Hai Phong, 55 km from Hong Gai and 35 km from Cua Ong port (Quang Ninh).
Every year Quan Lan village holds a festival of rowing, on the 18th day of the 6th lunar month, but actually the festival last from the 16th to the 26th. This is either the annual celebration of victory over Yuan enemy in 1288 or the festival of fishermen.
The festival of rowing is usually held at the beach in front of Ben Binh, where there is a village communal house. This house was built to worship the Village Tutelary God Tran Khanh Du, a famous general of the Tran Bynasty. He defended Van Bon for many years and once achieved a well-known victory that destroyed the whole fleet of supply ships of the aggressors in early 1288. This triumph played an important part in Viet Nam’s victory. He was honoured as village Tutelary God.
Also in this area, there is a temple to worship Mr. Pham Cong Chinh, the eldest of the three brothers who were villagers and subordinates of General Tran Khanh Du. He was killed during a battle against the aggressors. There is also a temple for the God of the Soil by the communal house.
Festival preparations:
Quan Lan has five main hamlets and three smaller ones. To hold the festival, Quan Lan is divided into two eastern and western guilds. Each guild includes three groups. In the Eastern guild they are called Dong – Nam – Van. In the Western guild they are called Doai – Bac – Vo. The number of people in each group may vary from 10 to 20, corresponding to the number of fathers who have sons aged from 1 to 3 in the village. Those fathers are asked to participate and contribute money to hold the festival. So the amount of money available depends on the number of sons.
The 10th day of the 6th lunar month: Locking the village. Villagers are not allowed to go anywhere. Those who do not abide by this rulle, their boats may find burned. But it is open to villagers working far from home, and to guests who come and prepare for the festival.
The 13th day of the 6th lunar month: Each group chooses one place (it may be the house of a member in the group) to meet and discuss the contribution of money and the festival preparations.
The 14th day of the 6th lunar month: The group holds a party, in which, the secretary of the group and strong, athletic men are chosen to receive God. These men are also the rowers. On average, ten people are chosen. But more people can be chosen in the larger group. The people holding oars in each guild may number 25 to 30. In addition, people to hold flags, fans, drums are also needed, so the total number may reach 40 or 50.
Each guild must nominate someone to play the role of commander or civil mandarin. Usually the Eastern guild nominates the civil mandarin and the Western guild nominates the commander.
The 15th day of the 6th lunar month: Each guild makes arrangements for its own boats, oars, drums, gongs and people. Each boat is usually smoked to lighten it, then made beautiful with a painted or drawn dragon’s head.
The 16th day of the 6th lunar month: Ceremony to welcome God. The master of ceremonies (the village chief) together with the notables of the village, the generals and the soldiers (the rowers) gather at the village communal house to welcome god. When they arrive at the small shrine (right) where the worship tablet of Tran Khanh Du is shown (1.5 km away from the communal house), the master of ceremonies presents a food tray of chicken, steamed glutinous rice, wine, fruit at the altar and tries their fortune. Then the worthip tablet of Tran Khanh Du” is carried in the sedan chair to the communal house and placed on the altar inside the house. This is to invite the God to witness the festival.
At two o’clock on the morning of the 17th day of the 6th lunar month the god-offering ceremony is held at the communal house. The worship tablet of the Gods is placed on the altar in the smoke of burning incense and fragrance of fruit.
The ceremony is also held simultaneously at the altars of other temples.
The 18th day of the 6th lunar month: At 8 o’clock in the morning, at the ceremony, for Mr. Pham Cong Chinh in the temple by the communal house, the civil mandarin and the commander each receive one stick of incense from the altars on the two sides of the temple and bring it to the altar of their guild. Then they have a party and prepare for the festival. At three in the afternoon, when the tide rises near the communal house, the two sides set out drumming and waving flags. The generals and the troops are in uniform: Dong Nam Van guild usually dresses in white and Doai Bac Vo in black. The generals must wear the ceremonial dress of a mandarin, and those who hold oars, poles and drums must be in uniform, as well. They all go to the Temple of the Divine Being. After the village chief and the two generals worship in the temple, the two sides deploy troops. Many gather on the riverbanks to watch and cheer. The two generals order their troops to board the boats. Boats of the Eastern guild go to the east, then turn to the west; Boats of the western guild go to the west, then turn to the east. They repeat the procession three times, then follow the same route back to the place in front of the Temple of Divine Being with boat heads in the direction of the temple. The two generals also stand on the prow of each boat, solemnly facing the temple. Inside the boats, order is restored and weak rowers are replaced.
Drums start to roll and five-coloured flags begin to wave. The general of Dong Nam Van reads the proclamation first, then comes the general of Doai Bac Vo. The contents of the proclamation are to beg the gods to protect and assist the villagers so that they will have good health, a prosperous life and victory for their troops. Then they get on the boats. Only one boat or each side will take part in the competition. The others will supervise and defend them. It is about 1,500m from the Temple of Divine Being to the landmark in the sea, where two flags are hung and two referees are watching. The competing boats arrive at the designed landmark. Each boat picks up the flag and exchanges it with the other side. Then the competition begins. The most important thing is to turn the boat quickly, skillfully and to take advantage of the wind. The boats dash to the landing pier, and the first to arrive is the winner. The troops of the winner carry their general to a pole in front of the Temple of Divine Being, where the award is hung (a bundle of money tied in red handkerchief). The general places his hand on the award while spectators applaud. Both generals go to worship gods in the temple. Then the referees give awards to both sides, but the winner’s award is a sum of money five time bigger than the loser’s.
Besides the festival of rowing held on the 18th day of the 6th lunar month, from the 16th to the 26th days lunar month, there are many other games in the village. Some examples are tug of war, swing, chess, performances of popular opera or classical opera, and, in recent year, sports.
The 19th day of the 6th lunar month: Taking a break. The leaders of the two guilds prepare a tray of food and two colouful paper boats for the ceremony next day.
The 20th day of the 6th lunar month: Peace Prayer ceremony. Early in the morning, the village chiefs gather at the communal house. A witchdoctor is invited to come. A tray of food is placed on a stage in front of the communal house. After the witchdoctor presents offerings, some troops (who took part in the festival) quickly carry the boats to the end of the village. They pray to the gods then bum the boats. The villagers have a party then carry the ancestral tablets of Village Tutelary God back to the little temple. The festival ends with the villagers’ joy and hope for continuous happy days.

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