SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 14, July 2016 - Page 36

All aspects of daily life float on the Mekong or along its shore banks. From markets, goods transportation, industry and tourism to houses, schools, and temples. The labyrinth of rivers, canals and streams serve as waterways instead of roads, and the waters ebb and flow with a tidal influence. The brackish waters support one of Vietnam’s most important fishing and aquaculture regions and are framed by a fertile patchwork of green rice paddies.

The Mekong is a river of Buddhism. The folk narrative of its origin varies between countries but most believe the river was created by Lord Buddha; who separated the Himalayan Mountains to allow water to flow to the sea and benefit humankind. Here, the river is deeply revered and provides food, safety, a sense of spirituality and connectedness. The God of Sea, God of Fish, God of the River and the ‘river monster’ all reside in its depths.

There are many cultural beliefs, myths and superstitions. Every boat, from rice barges to smaller delta freighters are painted with two eyes at the bow. These eyes are meant to allow the boat to see ahead and look for danger but also to ward off dangerous creatures like the river shark or other monsters. If a fisherman is killed, it must be the river monster; if a boat sinks, it must be the river monster

The ‘boat people’ believe if one sees the God of Fish, they will be blessed with good luck. The ancient tales paint a story of river fish that will save someone from drowning and river monsters, whom when angered, can create turbulence and tip boats. In areas of rough waters, temples are built to worship the Gods, and on the 16th of every month – in timing with the lunar calendar, offerings are made to the Gods of wine, beer, rice, fruit and duck. Every boat has a spirit house to welcome the gods. This belief translates to the dinner plate as it is bad luck to turn a fish over because it means the boat will tip over too.