Do Son’s Festival of Buffalo Fights

Dd Son is a beautiful beach and famous resort in the north of Viet Nam. It is also rich in folk culture, due to an annual festival of buffalo fights held on the 9th day of the 8th lunar month. In the old days, there were three important events in Vietnamese peasant’s lives. They were “to buy a buffalo, get married and build a house”. The buffalo was said to be the most important part of a fortune.
Guests from Ha Noi may go to Hai Phong by car or train (over 100 km) then go 22 km southeast to get to this beach. At present, Do Son is a town but the local people earn their living by growing rice or by fishing. They are the cultural guardians of the buffalo fights festival.
Although this festival lasts only one day, it takes Do Son seven months to prepare for it.
According to the administrative units, Dd Son initially comprised three villages before 1945: Do Son, Do Hai, Ngoc Xuyen. Do Son was divided into 3 smaller villages Dong, Nam, Doai. Do Son and Do Hai each got 6 hamlets, while Ngoc Xuyen had 2 hamlets; thus there were 14 hamlets in the whole Do Son, all of which took part in the festival.
Preparations, which begin as early as the 2nd lunar month, require two steps: buying and breeding buffaloes. Members of each hamlet contribute a “voluntary” fund to buy buffaloes. After raising enough money, the head of the hamlet holds a meeting with the old people in the hamlet (who have experience in buffalo fighting) to make offerings to the gods and to choose someone to buy a buffalo. This is to ask the gods to help them buy a good buffalo so that it can win the fight this year.
After the ceremony, those who have been chosen set out to buy the buffalo. They have to go to every market place from Hai Phong to Thuy Nguyen, Hai Duong, and even to Thanh Hoa, Nghe An. These people must have experience on chosen standards. This must be a big buffalo with a board chest, big thighs, and a strong, long, round neck, which should be a little smaller towards the head. The buffalo’s back must be curved and thick – so that a full bowl of water can be left on him safely. The feature of stork-neck is one of the most important because a buffalo of this kind can bend its head effortlessly. The buffalo of cylindrical earthernware-jar neck should be avoided because it cannot bend its head for long.
After approval of its initial appearance, the buyers examine the bull in greater detail, from head to toe. The buyers show a lot of concern about the head of the animal and three standards must be met: Its horns must be as black as ebony or bow-shaped or slanted. Buffaloes that have bulging eyes like a horse or black pupils in red eyes are considered good fighters. The third standard is the teeth and jaws of the buffalo. A good buffalo must have even teeth.
Concerning the body of the buffalo, it is a matter of the tufts of hair. A buffalo that has four tufts of hair or two linked tufts of hair on its body is considered good.
Then come the buffalo legs. Usually short, big legs with furry knees like wild buffalo and round hoofs are good.
The last standard are the buffalo’s genitals. A buffalo with black, hanging genitals is perfect.
Those are all the standards of a good fighting buffalo. Usually, it is difficult to find a buffalo which meets all of them. That is why buyers can omit unimportant standards. Or during the time of breeding, they can improve some standards that the buffalo lacks.
After buying the buffalo, the small hamlet plans how to keep and train the animal in the best way. Usually, the buffalo keeping is given to the people in the hamlet with the most experience. It is a great honour and responsibility for them to do so, so they do their best to keep the animal in top condition.
A fighting buffalo is kept in a separate shed and carefully looked after. It is also kept alone so that it can never see other buffaloes. This is to restore its wildness and isolation.
When it is time for training, the buffalo receives higher proportion of food. Grass for the animal is mixed with some bran, and it is given drinking water from Dragon Mountain twice a day. The nutrition for the buffalo is gradually raised.
After a period of good breeding, the buffalo becomes stronger and the small hamlet starts to train them to fight. The training period usually begins in May. Each small hamlet builds its own training round.
Another buffalo is brought in to be its rival. People of the small hamlet stand round, beating drums or cheering to make the buffalo familiar with the festival atmosphere. The wild animal is trained to understand the best tricks for defeating its rivals.
In the middle of the 5th lunar month, the selection of fighting buffaloes begins in the small hamlets. By rule each small hamlet must have one buffalo. But on the official fighting day (the 9th day of the 8th lunar month) only six buffaloes are allowed to participate. So qualification matches must be carried out. The regulation that each small hamlet must have one buffalo is not aimed only at choosing good buffaloes to take part in the fighting but also because after the fighting each small hamlet must have buffalo meat to distribute among its inhabitants.
In the official fight, the first, second and third ranking buffaloes of Do Son will meet with the first, second, and third ranking buffaloes of Do Hai and Ngoc Xuyen (these two villages are joined in one unit). Thus there are only six fighting buffaloes divided into three fighting couples which Do Son people called three “khap”.
The offering to the gods on the 9th day of the 8th lunar month, the official buffalo fighting day, is the biggest offering that Do Son ever makes. The gifts offered to the gods are contributed by 14 small hamlets, one of which gives one buffalo, one pig and one basket of sticky rice to make steamed glutinous rice.
The six chosen fighting buffaloes are also brought for presentation before the gods in a solemn though cheerful procession. Leading the procession is a big sedan – chair carried by 12 strong young men, followed by the team with drums and gramophones. Next come the fighting buffaloes, covered in red cloth. On both sides of the buffaloes, are twelve young men (6 from Do Son and 6 from Do Hai) dressed in red and holding red flags.
After all have gathered in the courtyard of the communal house, the offering begins. After the offering, the fighting buffaloes are taken to the fighting circle, which is a large, flat area of about 2 hectares in front of the communal house.
When all are in their place, a drum roll sounds from the 2 gates of the fighting round. Twelve young men (6 at each gate) dressed in red and holding red flags, enter. When they get to the middle of the fighting round, they stand in two lines, representing the two competing units: Do Son and Do Hai.
At the drum signal, the 12 young men begin a dance called “Opening the match”. Though simple it is imposing. People on one side move three steps forward, while people on the other side move three steps backward. They do this three times, according to the drum signal, and then withdraw in the direction from which they enter the circle.
After that, a messenger holding a very big megaphone says: Hello, hello. The first ranking includes Do Scfn and Do Hai. Because the two sides want to compete, bring in the fighting buffaloes”.
He repeats this greeting three times.
According to the rules, there are three matches: the first, the second and the third ranking buffaloes of Do Son fight with their Do Hai partners. The winners of these matches will have two more matches to choose the first, second and third winner. It would seem more reasonable to have 3 matches, because in this round, the winner in the first match will have to fight with the third one, which is having a rest. But the people of Do Scfn say that a good fighting buffalo will be able to win the next match without feeling tired.
After the messenger repeats his message the third time, from the 2 gates, come 2 young men from Do Son and Do Hai dressed in red. They each take a fighting buffalo into the ring. When the 2 buffaloes are 20 metres from each other, they stop. The 2 men quickly release the buffaloes and run out of the ring. Now in the fighting ring there are just the two buffaloes, alone. They remain in the same position they are left in, holding their heads high to stare at each other for some seconds, then suddenly, like two arrows, they rush toward each other.
Two pairs of horns crash with incredible power. Then they fight fiercely, making a cloud of dust. There have been matches lasting for several hours. There have also been very fast matches. One buffalo may be injured at the beginning of the match, and it wants to retreat; but the winner will not let it go, driving it back to the ring, and defeating it completely.
The atmosphere of the ring is sometimes quiet, sometimes noisy, according to the tempo of the match.
Watching buffalo fight is exciting; assembling them at the end of the match is a scene no less spectacular. When the defeated runs away, the winner immediately runs after its rival. The buffalo collectors have the tasks of restraining the winner. They are especially brave. Sometimes buffaloes chase each other closely, only 5 metres apart, but the collectors still rush in to separate the two buffaloes. It is not easy to stop them. There are some cases where the collectors are dragged as far as ten metres. In that situation, the collector must be extremely brave, determined not to leave the buffalo. Moreover, the other collectors must quickly support him to keep hold of the buffalo. In general, the experienced collectors can hold the buffalo more easily. The match ends after 5 fights. In some years the match lasts through the evening. After that, awards are given to the first, second and third winners.
At present the festival of Do Son buffalo fights is being restored in a way that will be simpler and more attractive.

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