The fishermen’s protector on Ly Son Island
By Truong Chi in Quang Ngai
Ly Son Island offshore Quang Ngai Province on the south-central coast has many legends about the Nam Hai whale. The most important legend tells of Nam Hai Dong Dinh Dai Vuong (The king of whales) who was the most powerful whale in the East Sea. Its sacred 200-year-old skeleton is preserved at Tan Temple in An Hai Commune in Ly Son District for worshipping.
|Tourists listen to the legend of the king of whale - Photo: Truong Chi|
The islanders claim the whale skeleton is the largest in the Southeast Asia. Its vertebra is 41 centimeters in diameter, rib 1.93 meters long and head bone 2.93 meters wide. The whale is 40 meters long and estimates say it would have weighed about 40-50 tons when it was alive.
As a custom, the mausoleum for the skeleton opens once a year in spring, when local fishermen hold Cau Ngu (Fish Worship) Festival to pray for safe fishing in the New Year.
The head of the ceremony prepares and cleans the skeleton before the event. Local residents come to worship and make offerings. If they have any troubles in their lives they have to make an offering to ask the regal whale’s opinion. Visitors also need to get the whale’s permission to take photographs.
All 20,000 who live on the island know the legend of the whale. When a whale dies on the beach, the residents hold a grand funeral and worship it in local temples.
Once every two years, local residents hold a meeting where they select the leader to run the ceremony and take care of the whale skeletons. According to local customs when a dead whale is found the person who found it is responsible for running the funeral – the obligation runs as deep as if it were his/her own parents.
Whale funerals are huge, attended by the whole community of fishermen. Apart from the giant whale skeleton kept in Tan Temple, there are about 100 other skeletons maintained and worshipped in other temples in Ly Son District.
The fishermen believe that whales protect them while they are at sea and that His Excellency Whale has rescued many fishermen when their boats sank.