Boat racing is not a new form of sport in the world of mankind. Some go as a form of a regular game, while others represent a civilization and religious belief. Do you know that lies hidden in the back of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam is a large Khmer community with a long-lasting South Vietnam culture? The coming October witnesses one of their biggest events, in which Boat Racing is a huge part, the Ok Om Bok Festival.
Ok Om Bok Festival (Source: Google)
How is an Ok Om Bok celebrated?
Ok, Om Bok is the biggest and most awaited event of the Khmer citizens in Southern Vietnam, especially, in the Mekong Delta. Ok, Om Bok is an occasion when the Khmer prepare to make an offering towards the Moon in return for the best harvests, good weather condition, prosperity, and happiness. As a part of the long-founded belief of Khmer People, the Moon is the supreme God taking charge of crops and the economy of all citizens on Earth. Accordingly, every single dweller is all looking forward to joining the special festival. Trà Vinh and Sóc Trăng are the most splendid cities Ok Om Bok takes place, which are home to the largest Khmer communities in the wetland of the Mekong.
Captured in Trà Vinh (Source: Google)
Prior to the Moon-offering section, a set of crushed young rice, sweet potatoes, taros, fruits, cakes, and sweets must be ready presented, which occurred frequently a month ahead.
The very next step is to form a big welcome gate out of bamboo poles and coconut leaves in the shape of a dorm. Atop the gate, the Khmer equip a 12-leaf betel string representing the 12 months of a year. Right beneath the gate, a full set of offerings would be available presented in order to showcase utmost gratitude towards the God of the Moon.
Offering to the Moon (Source: Google)
Once everything is put in its place, on the 14th and 15th full-moon dates of Lunar October, all Khmer citizens gather at the entrance of the village or in front of the front yards, face directly at the shining Moon, and get the ceremony started. Both the local oldies and children are all excited about the upcoming event. A master of the ceremony, or a host, would be selected based on their age. Regularly, the oldest man in a family or a village would be chosen to lead the event. The man will be expected to express his wishing and gratitude towards the Moon and pray for new successful crops as well as the families’ happiness.
As the offering is over, the hosts start to feed his children with a spoon of crushed young rice and ask for their wishes. Khmer adults highly believe that such young hopes would become the new belief and motivation for the upcoming year.
Gaily dressed participants (Source: Google)
Boat Racing – Soul of the whole festival
As the best focal point of this South Vietnam culture, Đua Ghe Ngho or Boat Racing Contest, follows the completion of the Moon-offering ritual. Boat Racing Game is an act of transferring the God of Water back to the sea after the crops are over. From another point of view, this contest is a cultural religious ritual in ancient Hinduism and Buddhism, which cites that Nagar Snake once turned into a piece of wood riding Buddha to the other side of the river.
Boat Racing Contest (Source: Google)
The competition of boat racing is held in a candid atmosphere with a massive attendance and shout-out from the audiences, most of whom are native Khmer and outlander visitors. As a long-established policy of the game, the teams are from both inside and outside of the area. Regularly, the teams are divided into two specific groups, one includes those ranked in the previous contests and one grouped by the rest.
In the middle of the game (Source: Google)
The type of boat used in this game is from 22 to 24 meters in length and can be to 1.2 meters in width, and is occupied by a group of 20 – 50 racers. In the past, those boats were made out of large dug-out pieces of wood. Today, such boats are constructed by grafting various smaller planks altogether.
Both the head and end of the boats are curved up and painted with gaudy patterns. At the head of each boat, the racers decorate a small animal miniature representing each team.
Living up the whole contesting scenario in the river is the big shout-out and rounds of applause coming from both of the river banks. These are accordant with the high pitch echoed from the gongs. Such a vivid scene goes along with the interesting cultural values, the sportive event of Đua Ghe Ngho has been seen as one of the biggest icons in the spiritual life of the Khmer community in Southern Vietnam.
Are you visiting the country this lunar October? Why not set aside some time for a good insight of this spectacular South Vietnam culture and observing the Mekong through a whole new prism.