Farewell, Whale!

A dead whale was dragged ashore in Vinh Thinh, Bac Lieu province, Vietnam, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2010. Thousands of Vietnamese fishermen gave a royal send-off to the 15-ton dead whale, gathering at the village to pay homage to the creature they call "Your Excellency." (AP Photo/Vietnam News Agency, Huynh Su) (Huynh Su - AP)

Bye, WHALE!

Vietnamese fishermen gathered by the thousands to give a royal funeral and farewell to a gigantic dead whale.

The whale was floating lifeless 26 miles off the coast yesterday before it was spotted.  Ten boats full of fishermen spent a day hauling it ashore.  The whale is referred to as “ngai” (“Your Excellency”) which has an honorific translation used only when referring to kings, emperors, and other esteemed leaders.  “His Excellency” weighs in at 15 ton and measures 52 feet in length.

Today, nearly 10,000 people gathered in Bac Lieu province to pay homage to this magnificent creature.  Fishermen believe that whales bring luck and safety.  The bones of the whale will be placed in a village temple to be worshiped.

The Cult of the Whale God

The cult centers upon the Whale God, a reverent creature that has the power to calm the waves and lead sailors to safety.  Regarded as a god, these large marine animals are never hunted.  Dead whales that wash ashore are buried in a respectful, ritualistic ceremony.  The bones of these creatures are typically placed in a temple to be worshiped.  While the Vietnamese Constitution strictly forbits “superstition,” the whale cult has deep roots in Vietnamese culture and is not considered to be against the law.  Whale-worshiping cults are observed in many coastal communities in Vietnam.

Whale Cult Festivals and Temples

The Whale Temple and sea divinity, Van Thuy Tu, Phan Thiet, Viet Nam

Many temples and festival are devoted to worshiping the whale deity.  During the “Cau Ngu” (Fish Prayer) Festival that occurs annually in many fishing communities, believers ask the spirits of the fish to guide and protect them during their fishing voyages in the coming year.

In Vung Tau, Danang, and Thuy Tu, there are pagodas entirely devoted to the whale god and annual festivals to honor the protection he provides to fishermen.

Since its founding in 1762, Thuy Tu communal house in Phan Thiet city has gathered a collection of hundreds of whale skeletons.  Fishermen of the village have seen these creatures as Gods of the Sea.  After a whale’s death, the remains are brought back to bury.  After 3 years, the bones are exhumed to be placed in a pagoda for worship.  One can see the bone structure of a whale on display at the temple in Thuy Tu.  The structure is about 120 years old, measuring 22 meters in length and weighing in at 65 tons.

OneVietnam Note:

Join OneVietnam as we honor this interesting and fascinating part of Vietnamese culture!

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1 Response

  1. Quynh V. says:

    What an interesting ritual! I've never heard about this before. I'd want to visit the Whale Temple one day..

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