Like many festivals in the small town of Hoi An, the Long Chu Festival is steeped as much in cultural concerns as it in religion. Long Chu festival is celebrated on the 15th of the lunar January and July, when the new season is coming and the old one is leaving, and the entire climat is uncertain. It is held in the summer months, when plagues and other types of epidemics are most likely to break out in the fishing villages. As a result, religious ceremonies are carried out to fight the diseases.
The name of the festival, “Long Chu”, translates as ‘Royal Barge’. It is a festival that concentrates on the warding off of ghosts and evil from the villages. Long Chu is a boat in the shape of a dragon (once one of the four religious animals – dragon unicorn, turtle, and phoenix – worshipped by the elders). This was traditionally a luxurious transport mean for the kings in the old times, used on their sight-seeing or patrolling tours.
The Long Chu Festival in Hoi An is considered a religious firewall meant to keep away epidemics from afflicting the members of the village. In this respect, the festival can almost be seen as as a precaution with a religious flavor against all these ailments. Keeping this in mind, the rituals are performed mostly by Priest Doctors or ‘Shamans’, and they involve burning of incense and putting of amulets and talismans in the ‘ghost’s’ abode, with the accompaniment of an entire community chanting prayer songs. An important part of the rituals is the casting of magic spells on the ‘ghosts’ that carry these ailments. These ghosts are then cast into the river, to be later discarded into the sea. One day before the festival, the sorcerers go around the village ticking superstitious charms on those places where bad sprites are suspected to hide and threaten people’ s lives.
After these rituals are over, the parades and processions begin. Amidst plenty of songs, drama and dance, the community finally gets together to share a common meal, enjoying themselves after hard days of work. After the ritual festivities, the participants in the festival enjoy a variety of games and other attractions, out of which the highlight is the ‘Procession of Long Chu’. In this procession, the ‘King Boat’ (in the form of a dragon) is carried from the house of the people to the sea, and then set afloat to be carried away by the waves.