In early 17th century, under Nguyen Lords’ reign, realizing importance of expanding borders and precious resources in the East Sea region of the country, especially in Hoang Sa (Paracel) Archipelago and Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago, Nguyen Lords set up “Hoang Sa Flotilla” to exploit sea products, measure sea routes, patrol the sea and plant the sovereignty landmarks in Hoang Sa Archipelago and Truong Sa Archipelago.
“Hoang Sa Flotilla” included 70 excellent fishermen in villages of An Vinh and An Hai in Sa Ky Seaport (Son Tinh and Binh Son districts now) and An Vinh, An Hai villages in Ly Son Island, Quang Ngai Province. In the second or third lunar months every year, the flotilla went out to sea and returned Eo Seaport (Thuan An Seaport, Thua Thien – Hue Province now) in the eighth lunar month. Afterward, Hoang Sa Flotilla was developed into Hoang Sa Naval Force (concurrently managed “Bac Hai Flotilla” which was responsible for exploring sea area in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Archipelagos). Bac Hai Flotilla mainly recruited fishermen in Tu Chinh Village (Binh Thuan Province). During three centuries, thousands of soldiers of Hoang Sa Naval Force overcame many storms to protect the sovereignty in Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos. Due to the dangerous of missions, many of them never returned to mainland. The images of tombs without dead bodies (wind tombs) of the families of Pham Quang, Pham Van, Vo Van… in Ly Son Island are heroic and pathetic evidences.
To commemorate the soldiers who laid down their lives for nation and pray safeness for new soldiers, in the second lunar month every year, Ly Son people celebrate Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa soldiers (Le Khao le The linh Hoang Sa) with the participations of the families in the island.
For the rites in the family, patriarch is sacrifice host, heads of branches are assistants for the patriarch. In addition, there is also a shaman to operate the ceremony.
About 17h on the 19th day of the second lunar month, descendants of the family gather in the worshiping house to participate in the initiation ceremony with offerings of betel, areca, wine, fruit, offering paper, incense. The positions of members in the sacrifice board are assigned specifically. The patriarch (sacrifice host) stands at the middle altar, two assistants are behind the patriarch. Standing at the east altar is the head of the 1st branch, the west altar is the head of the 2nd branch. Instruments for the ceremony include drum, gong, horns… The initiation ceremony lasts for about 1 hour.
At 0h on the 20th day of the second lunar month, Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa soldiers is officially started, because 0h is considered sacred moment between two days, all prayers at this time will be effective. The offerings in the main ceremony usually include betel, areca, wine, fruit, meat, fish, rice, salt, fish sauce, dry cake…; and especially bamboo boats whose soles are made of banana trunks fully attached sail, flags, banners; dummies and tablets writing names of dead Hoang Sa soldiers of the families.
After finishing worshiping rites, the shaman put dummies into the bamboo boats for the boat procession. Leading the procession are young men carrying flags, banners; followed by four young men carrying bamboo boats, shaman, patriarch, heads of branches and descendants in the family. In the seaport, the bamboo boats are released to the sea with meanings of lives and vessels of Hoang Sa soldiers to be sacrificed to gods, all risks to be dispelled, soldiers will return safely. In the end of the ceremony (dawn on the 20th day), people come back the worshiping house to attend a feast.
Besides Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa soldiers in the families, in recent years, local government and the families have also celebrated Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa soldiers of Ly Son Island at the end of the third lunar month with a larger scale, attracting numerous visitors and people in other localities. Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa soldiers of Ly Son Island is organized in Am Linh Pagoda or An Vinh Village Communal House with similar rites as the festivals in families, combined with cultural activities such as requiem, lantern festival, lion dance, boi singing, traditional boat race. The festival board of An Vinh Village and management board of Am Linh Pagoda are in charge of preparing for the festival.
In April 2013, Feast and Commemoration Festival for Hoang Sa soldiers was recognized as National Intangible Cultural Heritage by Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The festival contributes to affirming Viet Nam’s sovereignty over Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagos, preserving and promoting cultural values, and also educating national pride tradition and deep humane values to all Vietnamese people.