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08/01/2019 - 08:01

Practice shows of the maritime force in the Nguyen Lords’ Era

Few people know that there used to be large-scale practice shows of the maritime force on Tet Holidays on the legendary Perfume River in the Nguyen Lords’ Era. They were typical of the river civilization and honored the tradition of the maritime force in Dang Trong (Inner Realm).

A war boat in the Nguyen Lords’ Era (Le Floch de la Carrière, 1755-1756.)

Warriors on elephants and maritime warriors were the two important forces of the army in Dang Trong. The maritime force consisted of that at villages by the sea and the official force of the court. In the parade in early 1653, Phu Xuan had a very powerful maritime force with nearly 20,000 warriors.

P. Poivre, a member of the delegation of French merchants, who arrived in Phu Xuan in 1749-1750, witnessed the boat race i.e. the practice show of the maritime force on the occasion of Lunar New Year’s Days in Dang Trong which lasted throughout January. While all activities stopped for the New Year’s Holidays, Hue organized this annual activity in honor of the journey to the south of Chua Tien Nguyen Hoang (Spirit Lord Nguyen Hoang) and the victories on Gianh River against Dang Ngoai (Outer Realm).

On the Perfume River gathered up to 60-80 royal boats. They were of two sides. One side flew the red flag of Dang Ngoai and the other, the flag of the same color, but with a green globe in the center, representing Dang Trong.

Lord Nguyen Phuc Khoat (also known as Vo Vuong (Martial Prince)) was wearing simple clothes. He appeared together with the loud sounds of cannons, then stepped to the river where a boat was waiting for him. The boat was decorated to look like the one which had taken Chua Tien across the river before. The boat rower welcomed him on board and rowed the boat across the river. The Lord then tipped him 5 quan (the monetary unit at the time.)

Suddenly the boats of Dang Ngoai turned up with roars, tracing the Lord’s boat. A while later, there appeared the boats of Dang Trong in counterattack. The boats of Nam Ha (South of the River) shot continuously at those from Dang Ngoai. The battle got tense and the climax was the tight battle lasting for hours. Though it was a mock battle, both the participants and viewers on the riverbanks got very excited. 

The practice show ended with the boats from Dang Ngoai defeated and running away while the boats of Dang Trong ran after drastically. From then until the end of the day were parties and entertainment. 

A war boat in the Nguyen Lords’ Era (Le Floch de la Carrière, 1755-1756.)

Walking along the Perfume River, P. Poivre saw up to about 400 very big war boats in shipyards, with a nice and glossy layer of black paint. The war boats were beautifully carved and gilded, especially at the prow. Noticeable were about 100 boats on each of which were 40-60 oarsmen. Those boats were for entertainment and to draw the Lord’s boat.

War boats had the similar structure, but they were bigger, looked rougher and equipped with one or two cannons at the front. There were about 40 war boats of this type in Hue at the time, carrying about 50-60 oarsmen each. 

In addition, there were smaller war boats, used for training or transporting heavy cargo for the court. Warriors rowed the boats standing. They were often half-naked, with a loincloth and a belt of black silk (Henri Cordier, 1887, “Voyage de Pierre Poivre en Cochinchine”, Revue de l’Extrême-Orient, Vol. 3, No.1)

The reproduction of the practice show of the maritime force in the Nguyen Lords’ Era as seen in 2010 Hue Festival, as well as the investment in building a museum of military will connect history with culture for the ancient capital of Hue_the typical festival city of Vietnam.

Story and photos: Minh Phuong

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