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Do Son Buffalo Fighting Festival: Of Worship and Bravery

In honor of a Water God and their Hien Sinh custom, the people of Do Son District, Haiphong City celebrate a yearly tradition called Buffalo Fighting Festival. Officially starting on the 9th day of the eighth month of the Vietnamese lunar calendar, the worshipping ceremony is also, in fact mainly, a grand display of the local residents’ combative spirit and bravery.

Practiced since the 18th century, the Buffalo Fighting Festival of Do Son originated from the local people’s belief that buffalo fighting will appease their guardian gods and in return, they will be blessed with prosperity and happiness through safe journeys, rich harvest, good health and wealth.

The festivity is prepared meticulously, in fact takes almost a year of preparation. From the selection, buying, raising and training of the buffaloes, everything is done with precision and strict attention to details. Choosing the buffaloes for one is a very thorough task as the animals should have the following qualities in order to qualify for the competition: must be between four to five years old; have a good physical appearance; wide chest, big groin, long neck; sharp bottom; long tail; toned thighs; bow-shaped horns; well-fed; and trained. They are fed and separated from what are considered ordinary buffaloes.

Buffalo Fighting Festival is composed of two parts: Spiritual rites and entertaining activities. The former is conducted on the first day of the 8th lunar month wherein a sacrificial ceremony is conducted led by the elders and participated in by villages which have buffalo entries. The ceremony begins at the General Commune House of all villages in Do Son District towards Diem Tuoc God. A ceremony to worship the Water Goddess follows in which holy water is passed on to each village in its own Village Hall. This activity is done every year and led by buffalo owners along with their fighting animals. Six buffaloes are required to be part of the ceremony and should be clean, coverd with red cloths and bound with red or reddish bands on their horns. After which, each buffalo officially earns the title “Sir Buffalo” to symbolize the people’s spiritual life, hope and belief. On the 9th day of the 8thlunar month, the local residents gather at the hall early in the morning for a mass procession bringing the titled beasts to the arena, all done in a festive mood of loud traditional music, colorful palanquin and festival flags to echo the happy celebration.

The second part of the festival, the entertainment, is celebrated on the 9th day of the 8th lunar month and consists of traditional activities to manifest the people’s pride for their Vietnamese identity. Twenty four young and strong men perform a flag dance by waving and dancing along a loud playing of drums and cymbals. The instruments have to be played especially loud because it is believed that the sound will stir up a hyperactive mood among the buffaloes that entice them to fight with all their might.

The actual buffalo fighting follows at about eight o’clock in the morning wherein two buffaloes are led into opposing sides of the arena and made to stand near two flags called Ngu Phung. A signal is then released for both animals to be moved closer within 20 meters of each other. As soon as the fighters reach the Five Phoenix Flag, another signal follows which means that the ropes attached to the noses of the beasts be removed, finally urging the buffaloes to begin fighting according to how they were trained. All the while, spectators are obviously entertained by shouting and jumping about, rooting for their favorite contender.

The champion buffalo will be killed in a sacrificial ceremony to worship the Water Goddess in the belief that the village with a winning buffalo will have a year of good fortune and security. All the other fighting buffaloes are offered to the Heaven and Earth to pray for a happy and wealthy life. The local people eat the animal’s meat further believing that doing so will invite good luck. Aside from displaying its deep faith and courage, Do Son’s Buffalo Fighting Festival is a clear manifestation of a people’s unique identity and being proud of it.


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