The Ha Loi Festival

Ha Loi village now belongs to Me Linh district, Vinh Phuc province. Legend has it that Ha Loi is the native village of the Trung Sisters, the two heroines who led a people’s uprising against the Han invaders in the year AD 40. Trung Trac was the daughter of a local notable in Me Linh district and the wife of Thi Sach, a local notable of Chu Dien district. Both Trung Trac and Thi Sach were plotting to rise up against foreign domination when Thi Sach was killed by Su Ding, the Chinese Governor. As national humiliation compounded on family sufferings, the bereaved woman, together with her sister, Trung Nhi, rallied the population and staged an uprising which succeeded in restoring the country’s independence after some 200 years of Chinese rule, though, unfortunately, not for long.
The Ha Loi villagers usually hold a festival on the 6th of the first lunar month to honour the memory of the Tnfng family. The two sister and Thi Sach are worshipped in a temple of the village, while 4 Protector Spirits of the village – Do, Ho, Bach, Hac – are worshipped in the Communal House. And on the festival day, the palanquins of 3 cherished personalities are carried with great ceremony, from the temple to the Communal House.
The Ha Loi temple:
The temple is located on the Southeastern edge of Ha Loi village. It is not possible to identify exactly its date of construction but its architecture, decorations and cult implements suggest that it dates from long before the 19th century.
Situated in a large and airy area, amid high rice fields overlooking the Red River dykes, the temple features a beautiful gate with a horizontal board carrying 4 Calligraphic Chinese characters which mean “Shedding light to the four directions”. Behind the gate is a large yard at the end of which is located a half-moon shaped pond. On the shore of the pond is the antechamber of the temple, and behind it, the back chamber containing an altar with two statues of Trifng Trac and Thi Sach, and a stone tablet in honour of Trung Nhi. Thus, Trifng Trac and Thi Sach are the main objects of worship.
Initially, the two statues were made of terracotta. In 1882, the 11th year of the reign of Emperor Gia Long, they were replaced by two wooden statues.
In the early days of the anti-French resistance war (1947-48), both statues and the stone tablets were destroyed by the invaders. After the liberation of North Viet Nam (1954), the villagers drew up two big pictures of the statues and hung them in the back chamber of the temple.
The festival:
In the past, religious ceremonies were held on the 6th of the first lunar month known as the “feast day for soldiers”, the first of the eighth lunar month (the birthday of Trung Trac) and the 8th of the third lunar month (the day of the death of the two sisters). Of these, the biggest day was the 6th of the first lunar month, which the people of the neighbouring areas used to call the Ha Loi Festival. On that festival day, moon-shaped rice pies are presented as offerings and a procession of the palanquin is organized, as the main part of the ceremony.
Three palanquins are taken out of the temple, that of Thi Sach preceding the other two. But, on reaching the highway which is called the Trong Quan road by the population, the palanquin of Thi Sach falls behind the other two. This change of order reflects the feudal perception of hierarchy (in the family, Thi Sach was the supreme authority, whereas with respect to the country at large Trung Trac was the sovereign).
The carriers of the two sisters’ palanquins are all unmarried, pretty girls of similar height, aged 18 to 20. Each palanquin is served by 32 main carriers and 32 reserve carriers. There are, in addition, a dozen others who carry parasols and weapons from the temple. All in all, over one hundred girls clad in traditional clothes – turbans with red stripes, three-layer dresses of green, red and yellow colours, dark satin skirts and leather sandals.
Thi Sach’s palanquin is carried by about 70 males, wearing traditional turbans, tunics, and towels; and carrying fragrant incense packets.
After traversing a certain distance on the highway, the procession of palanquins heads for the communal house for a reunion between the 3 dignitaries and the four village guardians and God Cot Tung.
According to some sources, the cult implements of Ha Loi temple are painted black.
An eighty-year old man says that as a small child he could hear the palanquin carriers singing while marching with the procession. He can still remember one of these songs but never could get elders to explain its meaning. According to the old man, the male carriers sang:
We climb the mountains,
We climb the mountains,
We chase the deer We chase the deer
Female carriers sang:
We climb the mountains We climb the mountains We chase the roe We chase the roe.
With whom can we share our intimate feelings
As we look to the East,
we see large expanses of water,
As we look to the West,
we see masses of white stones,
As we look to the South,
we see clouds enveloping the woods,
As we look to the North,
we see high, very high mountains.
The songs have no relation with the legend of the Trung Sisters. This suggests that the festival and its songs are a link between ancient religious beliefs and the cult of national heroes which have been practiced together for a long time in many Vietnamese villages.

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