For the Khmer ethnic people the ceremony of launching the boat called Ghe ngo is a special event. A Ghe ngo is launched only once a year to participate in the Ok Om Bok Festival. After the ceremony it is taken ashore and preserved. This practice has become a unique cultural feature with both traditional and spiritual characteristics.
Once, we went from Ho Chi Minh City to Soc Trang Province to visit a friend. For us, the reporters, it is very interesting to participate in the festivals to learn about the cultures and people in different areas. My Khmer ethnic friend asked us: “You have watched the Ghe ngo race, right? Do you know the Ghe ngo launching ceremony?” All of us shook our heads with curiosity on our faces.
The Ok Om Bok Festival
The Ok Om Bok Festival takes place in Mid-October of the lunar calendar. Before the Ghe ngo is taken to participate in a race at the festival, the hamlets and pagodas of the Khmer group usually organize a worshipping ritual on the Ghe ngo’sbow (locally known as Pith Sene Kbal Tuok) to launch the boat. The Khmer people consider Ghe ngo their genie who protects their peace. It is the embodiment of the strength of the hamlet, so it is carefully preserved and placed in the most solemn place in the hamlet. The Ghe ngo launching ceremony has a special role, showing the belief of the Khmer people in the spiritual element.
The time and date of launching the boat is decided by each hamlet and is suitable to the feng-shui and the worshipping object of the hamlet. At Sro Lon Pagoda in Dai Tam Commune, My Xuyen District, Soc Trang Province, the boat launching ceremony starts in the early morning. The main offering of the ceremony is Slath thor made of a coconut fruit (Slath thor Don) or a banana trunk (Slathor Chek) for planting the incense and candles. Before the ceremony is conducted, the sorcerer places the Slath thor at the positions of the rowers along the hulls of the boat.