Snake dance and catching snake competition in Le Mat Festival

 The Festival will make deep impression in tourists's mind, cause of its unique tradition.  Le Mat village is located in Viet Hung commune, Gia Lam district, about 7km northeast from downtown Hanoi. It has been famous for a long-standing trade: snake catching and breeding, snake wine and tonics and snake dishes.

Old locals in the village said that snake catching and breeding in Le Mat has been practiced for almost 900 years.  It is handed down from generation to generation among the villagers who consider it a valuable asset of their ancestors. Travelers in Vietnam Tourism to Le Mat nowadays, both domestic and foreign, want to know more about the traditional craft, on the other hand they enjoy special dishes and tonics made from snakes. 

This village and its communal house are associated with a legend. While the daughter of King Ly Thai Tong (1072-1127) was on a pleasant boat cruise with her maids on the Thien Duc River (now Duong river), a big snake, pictured in popular imagination as a devil, overturned the boat by means of strong winds and large wave. The crew could do nothing to protect the unfortunate princess. But a young man from Le Mat village dived into the water, fought against the devil and, in the end, succeeded in killing it and saving the princess.

The King was deeply impressed by the young man’s courage and gave him a reward in gold and court titles. But the hero – a member of the Hoang family – graciously rejected the reward and, instead, requested the King to allow him and a number of poor people to reclaim land in the areas lying west of Thang Long, the Royal Capital, which was then surrounded by fallow land. As the King gave his assent, the young man set about rallying poor people from many parts of the country and led them in reclaiming land and establishing 13 prosperous and famous agricultural settlements in the neighbourhood of Thang Long.

Grateful posterity worshipped the young hero as the genius of their villages and on March 23 (lunar year) of each year the inhabitants of the former 13 agricultural settlements flocked in the Le Mat village to attend the festival.

The highlight of the festivities is the snake dance, an original performance held in the yard of the communal house; this dance is significant because the population of Le Mat is renowned for catching and breeding snakes.

 The festival starts with a water procession. The villagers fetch water from the village pond, pour it into a big porcelain jar and put the jar on a palanquin and bring it to the Temple. The villagers also catch a big fish from the pond, put it on a tray and cover it with a red cloth, and bring it to the Temple as an offering to the Patron Saint. 

After finishing all ceremonial prayers, the villagers gather at the temple yard to see the performance of the young man killing the snake and saving the princess. The snake is made of bamboo plates covered with cloth, 60m long and 60cm in diameter and looks ferocious. It is managed by a dozen young men. The well-dressed princess and her assistants dance beautifully. The man of the Hoang family, in red armour dress and holding a sharp lance, performs around the snake before killing it and saving the princess all to the sound of the drum beating and cheerful cries from the villagers. Visitors in Vietnam travel feel a so exciting, lively atmosphere.

The Festival is an opportunity for the children of the village to learn about and to be reminded of the history of the difficult establishment of their village, to share happiness. It's a good chance for the villagers to show respect to their ancestors and pride about the land of 1000-year Civilization.

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