Thunderous beats from drums and gongs will resound around Buon Don District in the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) province of Dac Lac on Saturday to mark the start of the annual elephant racing carnival.
The traditional races, organised in Buon Don on the third lunar month, have proved popular with foreign and Vietnamese tourists who fancy the sights, sounds and excitement of the competition.
This year, the races have been shifted to November to coincide with Tay Nguyen ethnic minority people’s harvest festival.
The two-day carnival is held on the banks of the Serepoc River, one of Dac Lac Province’s biggest rivers, with a space large enough to allow ten elephants to race side by side. Five districts in Dac Lac Province have entered 30 elephants to participate.
"Three months before the races, the elephants aren’t made to do any heavy jobs but train everyday on large fields and enjoy a special diet," a mahout in Ea Sup District said.
Prepararion activities begin the day before the race with a religious ceremony to pray for the elephants’ and riders’ good health. Then the races begin the following morning with an elephant procession. Each kneels before the stands to greet spectators and then joins the dances amidst gongs and drums.
After three blasts of the pipa trumpet the elephants are off. After a slow and clumsy start their mahouts manage to turn them into seasoned track-and-field athletes.
The elephants also entertain the audience by shooting balls into goals, throwing wood competitions and tug of war.
The first prize, although small, brings honour to the elephant’s owner and the strongest elephant is made head of the village.
During the elephant racing carnival, local ethnic people clad in their traditional coloured costumes sing, dance and drink their can wine through the night even though the tradition has mainly been preserved and promoted to attract tourists to Buon Don, a region known for its domesticated elephants.
During the elephant racing festival, tourists can attend a food festival featuring culinary arts of various ethnic minority people in Tay Nguyen.
Tourists visiting Buon Don can ride the tame elephants up the Serepoc River across to the river’s small islands.
It is also possible to travel by elephant through the Yook Don National Park.
VNS - (08/11/2004)