Vietnam 200 years ago: good and evil spirits

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The Cochinchinese are extremely superstitious, and their devotional exercises, like those of the Chinese, are more frequently performed with the view of averting an ideal evil than with the hope of acquiring a positive good; or, in other words, the evil spirit is more dreaded than the good one revered.

In various parts of the country are large wooden stakes or pillars erected, not only for the purpose of marking the spot where some great calamity either of a public or a private nature may have happened, as the loss of a battle, the murder of an individual, or other unfortunate event, but as a propitiation to the evil spirit by whose influence it is supposed to have been occasioned.

So also when an infant dies, the parents are supposed to have incurred the displeasure of some malignant spirit, which they endeavor to appease by offerings of rice, oil, tea, money, or whatever they may imagine to be the most acceptable to the angry divinity.

From such sentiments one may venture to hope that the horrid practice of infanticide is not among the bad customs they have retained of the Chinese.

Beside the spontaneous offerings which individuals conceive it necessary to make on various occasions, it seems that a yearly contribution, levied by government, is paid for the support of a certain number of t monasteries, in which the priests invoke the deity for the public welfare. This contribution corisists of produce in kind, as rice, fruits, sugar, areca nut, and other articles; in lieu of which, in towns, are collected money, metals, clothing, and such like.

The priests here, as in China, are considered to be the best physicians; but their art lies more in charms and fascinations than in the judicious application of sanative drugs.

Text: Sir John Barrow
Photo: illustration from the book, internet

Fragment from the book:
Barrow, John, Sir (1764-1848)
A voyage to Cochinchina in the years 1792 and 1793 : containing a general view of the valuable productions and the political importance of this flourishing kingdom; and also of such European settlements as were visited on the voyage : with sketches of the manners, character, and condition of their several inhabitants.
Publication date: 1806

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