Tra Co village which is 8 kilometres from Mong Cai town, is part of Hai Ninh district, Quang Ninh province. It is located on a small peninsula, at the northernmost end of the country and the latter's northeastern region. On the North East, it borders on China and, on the south, it borders on the sea, with a magnificent 17-kilometer long beach.
Tra Co has an area of 12sq.km and over 1,000 inhabitants, and is credited with many scenic spots and historical and cultural vestiges such as the Mang dunes, the Tra Co communal house, the Linh Khanh pagoda, the Xuan Lan pagoda and a number of interesting customs. Consequently, Tra Co is quite popular with Vietnamese and foreign visitors.
The Tra Co Village Festival starts annually from May 30 to June 7, but it actually stretches from the end of May to June 10. Its agenda comprises, among other things, a general ceremony, a contest in pigs breeding, and a culinary contest. The communal house is the main place where is held the festival.
The first item is the selection of "festival hosts". The hosts are usually selected from among male villagers aged from 30 in accordance with the entry order in the civil registry of the village. Initially, there were only 8 festival hosts, but due to population growth the number increased to 12. Their task is to take part in the organization of the festival and to contribute materially to the ceremonies and other ritual during the festival and during the whole year.
May 25 (lunar calendar):
A big flag with the letter "Dai" is hoisted in the yard of the communal house signaling the preparatory stage of the Festival. From that day, no one is allowed to go out from the village and offenders are liable to money fines. Village notables and the hosts meet to apportion various tasks: the preparation of offerings, the appointment of escorts, members of the music band, carriers of palanquins... The hosts draw lots on the catering of ordinary and vegetarian food offerings.
In the morning, all "festival hosts" assemble at the communal house and, in the presence of village notables, contribute money for the organization of the Festival, jars of rice liquor, sea products (prawn, fish, crab), and scores of kilograms of rice for serving the ceremony and providing food to the participants.
In the afternoon the ceremony leader and all the "hosts" carry a gilded bamboo pole (diameter - 15 to 20cm) from the back chamber to the middle of the communal house. After stopping several limes to present their respects and best wishes, they put the bamboo tree, in a horizontal position, on the upper parts of the two main pillars of the house. This is a signal to all that the village has now entered the Festival, and that from now, on, lamps and incense sticks must be kept burning continually on the altar.
On the same day, the families of the hosts bathe the "elephants" with flagrant leaves and water, decorate them with color ink and red cloth. Thereafter, the "Festival hosts" duly clad in traditional costumes escort the "elephants" (contained in beautifully painted cage) to the communal house where the latter will spend the night.
At , all villagers assemble at the communal house in order to perform the general ceremony (stragglers or absentees are liable to fines). The "festival hosts", duly clad in traditional costumes, and their family members bring in 10 kg of cooked meat and 10 kg of steamed glutinous rice. Thereafter, the procession - together with flags, palanquins, and a musical band - set out for
The "festival hosts" hold ceremonies and organize feasts in their own homes in honor of the participants.
Only simple ceremonies are held, so that participants may take some rest.
June 4 to June 7:
Processions continue, with attendants performing their duties on a rotating basis; conventional and vegetarian food offerings are supplied by the "festival hosts" as set in the division of work.
Conventional food offerings: Each table contains various dishes put on plates of banana leaves. On the 4 corners of each table chicken and duck meal is arranged in the form of the 4 sacred animals (dragon, tortoise, phoenix, unicorn). Beside the usual 6 dishes, each table must have a piece of belly meal of a pig with 4 nipples. Usually, that is the piece of meat that should be presented to the highest-ranking notable of the village. Each bowl or plate must be filled up with food and decorated with red chilli elaborately cut in the form of flowers.
Some decorations provide the figure of a young lion, and care must be taken to secure certain fruits - red skin, with white grains - for figuring a mouth similar to that of a sacred lion.
Vegetarian food: Vegetarian food must be presented as offerings at the central compartment of the communal house, and must comprise various kinds of cakes and vegetarian food arranged in the form of trees, branches and leaves, and disposed at various levels.
When the offerings are brought to the middle of the communal house, they must be carried by two male villagers clad in traditional clothings decorated with red and yellow ribbons. Food offerings brought to the left and right compartments of the communal house must be carried by girls clad in traditional robes.
A number of games and cultural items are performed during the Festival days, at the yard of the communal house: cabaret song performances, human chess (human beings play the rule of chess men), the "to tom" card game involving watch-towers, a flower dance (after the dance, flowers are thrown out and people try to snatch them as symbols of good luck).
By the end of June 7, the villagers hold a ceremony on removing the bamboo pole from the main pillars and on sending-off the lamp. The ceremony leader takes the lead of the procession, his hands holding a bundle of burning incense sticks, and marches behind the gilded bamboo pole and the lamp. He is followed by the "festival hosts". While marching, he loudly recites congratulations and good wishes and, after each reading, stops a while so that the villagers may chant in chorus, to the accompaniment of drums, gongs and firecrackers. The concluding ceremony is thus permeated with an atmosphere which is both solemn and festive.
The end of the festival ushers in a new period, as on June 8 a new batch of "festival hosts" takes over and will be responsible for the religious ceremonies and rites during the forthcoming period and festival.