Praying for Bumper Crop Festival in Sa Huynh

For a long time, the “praying for fish” festival is held early in the year by the inhabitants of the coastal district of Tu Nghia and Son Tinh of Quang Ngai Province. In spring, in Thach Bi Hamlet, Pho Thanh Commune, the “praying for fish” festival takes place in the merry and animated atmosphere of the fishermen’s association – “praying for a good crop” and “praying for peace and security”, which is nowadays referred to as the “fish catching” ceremony in Sa Huynh.
Every year, on the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year, the fish catching ceremony is held. Preparations for the festival are made in the late months of the previous year, which involve restoring boats; mending nets; and getting fishing equipment ready. All the boats in the hamlet or commune come to the defined place. They are ablaze with lights, banners, and flowers. One boat is chosen to lead the procession – a boat that has caught the largest amount of seafood, its owner has high reputation among the fishermen and his family does not have any deceased in the past year.
On the 2nd night of the Lunar New Year, all fishermen celebrate the Southern Sea Deity worshipping ceremony on their boats. Around 8 o’clock in the morning of the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year, the fleet goes out to sea. Each boat is fully equipped with casting and other fishing-nets to begin a new year’s harvest. At a selected time, the main boat halts to conduct “worship ritual” while other boats gather around it. After that they all go back.
Along with the fleet launching ceremony the local residents often invite hat boi (classical opera) troupes to come to give their sac bua performances. These include songs and dances as greetings and expression of hopes for a good harvest and of best wishes to family members on the occasion of the Lunar New Year.
The sac bua dance is performed by a group of 8 to 10 dancers with the chief (ong cai). Yet, in some places the members of such a group number 20 or 24. In white trousers, red and loose coat, ong cai runs out to play the drum and sings songs of praise, then claps his hands three times to call the female dancers out. In the group, the female dancers wear blue belts, and are dressed in pink or light green. With lanterns in their hands, the girls move around rhythmically. It is the glistening lights combined with the lithesome dancing movements and melodious music that fascinate the audience. When a dance ends, ong cai once again beats his drum three times; the group rearranges themselves and then continues with another dance. The dancers sing to the accompaniment of the drum sounds of ong cai.
Nowadays, hat boi and sac bua singing and dances are no longer included in the ceremony. On the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year, a grand stand is erected, decorated with Uncle Ho’s portrait and slogans. Before the fleet sails, a representative of the local authority delivers a speech to sum up the harvest of the past year and lay down course of action for the coming year. The main boat of the ceremony is replaced with a motorized boat. The festival, in this way, has been innovated to conform to the present time. The kernel of the festival is still retained, i.e. the combination of the traditional practice of “praying for fish” and other forms of folk performances, to preserve the traditional beliefs and entertain the fishermen.

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