Witnessing the Nghinh Ong Festival in Ca Mau, Vietnam

If you want to learn more about Vietnam’s local culture during your trip to the country, consider attending one of the local festivities. One of the most fascinating festivals that are being celebrated in Vietnam is the Nghinh ông Festival, which takes place in the southern city of Ca Mau. Also known as the Whale Worshipping festival, most of the celebration takes place in the water. It’s celebrated in honor of the God of Whales, which is participated mostly by the local fishermen.

The celebration of the Nghinh ông Festival is one of those local traditions that came from the Cham people and has been passed on from generations to generation. It’s the local fishermen’s way of thanking the largest animal of the sea, which is said to have saved some fishermen from drowning during heavy storms.

Origin of the Nghinh Ông Festival

What makes the Nghinh Ông festival different from the other festivals in Vietnam is that it’s mainly celebrated in the water. This is because the festival is in honor of the whales, which are locally known as Cá Ông. Locals believe that by taking place in the festival, they will be granted with luck and will enjoy fruitful harvest whenever they head out to fish.

According to legend, whales would rescue fishermen from drowning in the far away sea, especially when a big storm would cause their boats to sink. These massive animals are believed to carry fishermen to shore safely. This act of saving people is said to be the work of the God of whales, which is why celebrating the Nghinh Ông festival is the local’s way of thanking the Whale God. In doing so, they are hoping for the Whale God to continue protecting them in the midst of storms and to bless them with a fruitful harvest.

What to Expect During the Nghinh Ong Festival

Typically, the Nghinh Ông Festival is divided into two main sections, the ceremony, and the celebration. The ceremony will involve a procession of participants who will be carrying a chair that contains the statue of the Southern Sea General. This is the term that the locals give to the Whale God. The procession will head towards the waterfront where decorated boats are waiting. These dragon boats are usually decorated in red, with several colorful flags hanging in them.

Visitors would then queue to pray and give their offerings to the Whale God. The statue of the Whale God will then be brought to the boat that’s usually the biggest and most splendid of all. Once the statue is on the boat, the captain of the big boat will head towards the sea and the other smaller boats will follow. Merrymakers dressed in colorful costumes will be on board the boats and can be heard cheering and chanting.

The second part of the festival is the celebration, which consists of various activities that will usually be held for two days. There will be folklore games participated by the locals that include climbing in an oil post, throwing balls, and other traditional activities. Winners will be awarded on the last day of the event.

When is Nghinh Ong celebrated?

Before, the local fishermen themselves would organize the Nghinh Ong festival. But nowadays, the city’s local government officially runs the event. The festival is held on different days each year, although the rituals, ceremony, and celebrations are pretty much the same.

In Ca Mau, the Nghinh Ong festival is celebrated on the 14th, 15th and 16th of the Lunar month of February. The date would change from time to time so if you are planning to witness this event, make sure to do your research in advance. Also, some cities in Vietnam are also celebrating the Nghinh Ong festival. For instance, in Ho Chi Minh’s Cần Giờ District, the festival is usually celebrated in the 14th to the 18th of the lunar August.

Other Things to Do in Ca Mau

When visiting Ca Mau for the Nghinh Ông Festival, consider visiting the city’s attractions as well. If you love nature, take time to explore the U Minh Ha National Park. This is a massive mangrove forest that covers an area of 1,000 sq. km. It’s home to a wide variety of wildlife species including endangered animals.

Take time to explore the Ca Mau Market as well, which is a sprawling local market along the Phung Hiep Canal. The Cao Dai Temple is also an interesting temple to visit. It’s built in 1966 and has a very colorful decoration. Other attractions to visit in Ca Mau are the Dat Mui Landmark, Khai Long Discovery Resort, and the Hon Da Bac Island.

Ca Mau is in the southernmost portion of Vietnam and the best way to get here is to fly from Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi. The airport in Ca Mau is about 2 km. away from the town. If you want a cheaper way to travel to Ca Mau, take the bus from Ho Chi Minh. The travel time is around 8 to 9 hours.

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