Running with the Oxen : A Khmer Tradition
Khmer Oxen Racing Festival : An Giang, Vietnam
Oxen Rider in Full Action & Adrenaline!
In the Bay Nui (Seven Mountains Region) of Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province, we have the Annual Oxen Racing Festival. This Sene Dolta Festival is a major event for the Khmer, a time when the ethnic minority group honor their ancestors with traditional rituals and social activities, including the oxen race. The festival annually takes place from the 29th day of the eighth month to the first day of the ninth month in the lunar calendar (around 3 Sept each year).
The event of Oxen Racing is so unique that there seems to be no other ones that could be muddier, more chaotic or more energetic. Before the competition, from several villages of An Giang province, the best pairs of oxen are chosen to join the activity and they undergo special treatment for months - they are well fed and traditionally taught distinct manoeuvres. On the racing day, pairs of oxen are determined to compete with one another by drawing lots.
To prepare for the Oxen Racing Festival, Khmer people choose a flat and wet rice-field with 200 meter long and 100 meter wide, that is muddy (of course), surrounded by a fence and safe stops. The Racing course is about 120 meters long; both the starting and ending point is at the same juncture, marked respectively by a blue flag and a red flag.
The race is a circular track, including two laps. In the first round, pairs of cow are under control; meanwhile, in the second one, there is no holding back. Pairs which remain until the end of the event are those that manage to reach the finish line before their competitors. The uniqueness of oxen racing is that the two oxen are tied by a special rake, and the oxen rider must be adept in hitting the two oxen with the same energy and finesse to make them both run at the same speed, whilst steering through the entire course.
The one leading their oxen to the first position will be awarded the greatest honor -being the bravest rider in the region. The Khmer believe that the winning oxen will bring joy and good luck with a fruitful harvest. The winning oxen are not sold but cared for as prized assets by the family who own them.
On the festive day, locals gather around the arena from early morning, and from the very beginning until its end, the festival goes into rhapsodies with the sounds of clapping, cheering and encouraging, loud festive music, truly an exciting atmosphere of simmering cheers and applause!
The festival in general and the race in particular attract a flock of photographers every year. Each year’s festival celebration require month-long preparations by the local government, monks at the Ro Pagoda and other stakeholders, and there is always ardent support from many donors willing to contribute to preserving the local culture.