Whale funerals

by Phuong Le Trong

Was machst du? Wie Menschen weltweit arbeiten (Ausgabe II/2013)

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In some parts of Vietnam the whale is not only celebrated as a god, but it also decorates stamps – and other things. Photo: Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com


For many Vietnamese the whale is  is a powerful god who resides in the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Along the central Vietnamese coastline up to the southern Mekong delta, the whale is worshipped as a protective deity. When fishermen spot a whale during a storm, they interpret it as a sign of their safety and salvation. If a whale is stranded, it is thought to have chosen the nearest fishing village as its final resting place. This is a great honour for the village and its people. They feel obliged to bury the animal in a traditional and solemn manner.

The finder of the whale is automatically the person responsible for the burial. Together, the villagers dig a grave, lay down the carcass, cover it with red silk cloth and make offerings. A temple is built as a place of pilgrimage. In some regions the bones of the whale are preserved for some years. A festival is held in honour of the whale once a year, usually during the full moon in spring. The boats and the temple are festively decorated and people say prayers for the fishermen and a good catch. A document dating from the 18th century mentioned a whale burial. In the middle of the 19th century the king even paid tribute to stranded whales and the chosen villages. The veneration of the sea giants is also reflected in the Vietnamese word for whale, "Cá ông", which translated means "venerable fish" or "grandfather fish".

Translated by Jess Smee



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