Vietnam 100 years ago: worshiping ancestors


All this worship of gods and spirits holds, however, a subordinate place in comparison with ancestor worship, upon which is concentrated all the real religious fervour of the people. This is the basis upon which all morals and customs are founded, and it governs all social and domestic life.

In the East it is said that “the dead rule the living,” and there is much truth in the statement. Happily the influence of this religion is almost entirely good. One of its chief dogmas is the care, consideration, and respect due to the older members of a family.

However old and feeble the head of the household may he, he rules with a rod of iron. His wish is law. The woman, even, as soon as she becomes a ba-gia, enjoys an influence far greater than in her youth. A man takes advice from his mother more readily than from his wife.

It is not only in the family that this devotion and submission are noticeable. Any individual on the road with grey hair or other indication of age is addressed by a title denoting great respect.

Another result of ancestor-worship is a love of children. The Annamese are most devoted parents, and if it were not for their ignorance of hygiene, they would be model fathers and mothers.

Children are brought up not only with the idea of what is due to their parents in old age, but of what is due to them after death. They must strictly observe all the rites of ancestor-worship when, on the days, their father performs the ceremonies, for later one of them will take his place.

The chief ceremonies are held just before the Tet (the Annamese New Year) and on the anniversaries of the deaths of the parents. No member of the family must be absent on this occasion; punishments can even be inflicted by law for such an offence. The offerings placed on the altar at this time are more important than at any other season during the year, and in rich families they are increased daily.

Read more:
Vietnam 100 years ago: table manners
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Vietnam 100 years ago: religion and superstitions
Vietnam 100 years ago: worshiping ancestors

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Text: Gabrielle Vassal
On & off duty in Annam, London 1910
Photo: old photo from internet


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