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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Gods of the sea

Text & photos by Adrien Jean

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Phuoc Hai is a fishing village in the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau. Oasis of calm most of the year, the small village dresses to impress once a year on the occasion of the whale festival, a spiritual and cultural celebration to thank the sea for providing for their needs and show their respect and gratitude towards Nam Hải, a whale god.

Whale worshipping is an ancient tradition anchored in the deep seas of fishermen’s journeys. According to local tales and legends, fishermen would witness whales riding along their boats, offering them guidance and protection at sea. From small offerings and intimate prayers, the practice of honoring whales slowly turned to more established and elaborated celebrations; and whale temples flourished along the Vietnamese coast. Nowadays, it remains an important part of coastal fishing communities’ culture and identity.

Locals gather for an early morning coffee on the beachside
A woman dressed as an imperial maid to the whale god
Offerings ceremony held to honor the whale god
Offerings of fruits, flowers, incense, and other items that are believed to be pleasing to the whale god
A rainbow of traditional costumes. The man with the crown represents the Nam Hải god, whereas the others represent fishermen.
Spiderman to the rescue
The gate
A proud fisherman
A colorful parade of locals dressed in traditional costumes makes their way through the village
Drum roll
It is also an opportunity for locals to enjoy traditional games on the beach
Lễ hội nghinh Ông (Whale Welcoming Festival)
The whale cemetery is dedicated to worshiping whales and serving as a final resting place for the bones of whales that have been washed ashore or caught by local fishermen. These fishermen have to treat the deceased cetacean as one of their ancestors.
The whale cemetery at night

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