Vietnam’s Buffalo Fighting Festival Faces Closure


On July 11 the Vietnamese Cultural Department asked the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to remove a controversial buffalo fighting festival from the list of national intangible cultural heritage if safety requirements are not met.

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The Cultural Department’s request was made following a fatal incident at the centuries-old Do Son Buffalo Fighting Festival. The tragedy was the first human fatality in the festival’s history, which took place the northern city of Hai Phong on July 1.

The department said it will inspect whether the Hai Phong festival met the safety requirements the organisers had pledged. If the festival fails to do so, authorities will ask the ministry to remove the Do Son Festival’s status as a national intangible cultural heritage and ask the ministry not to license festivals with violent content in the future.

According to the department, a poll will be held to collect the opinions of scholars, authorities and the general public on the Do Son Festival.

If the festival is allowed to continue, the festival’s organisers will have to focus on traditional rituals rather than buffalo fighting, the Cultural Department stated.

On the morning of July 1, an owner of one of the fighting buffalos at the Do Son festival was gored to death by his buffalo.

According to media reports, Dinh Xuan Huong, 47, was expecting to see his animal compete in a qualifying round but instead he was gored and knocked unconscious when the animal threw him into the air.

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The festival was stopped immediately. Huong died after six hours of emergency care due to his serious injuries.

A “Barbaric” Festival?

What is disturbing in this case is not only what happened to Huong but the fact that local police shot the buffalo dead two days after the attack to take samples to determine whether the animal had been given a stimulant to make it more aggressive.

More disturbing still, all buffalos taking part in the fighting festival are slaughtered for meat after the event ends, no matter if they win or lose.

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Those who frequently watch buffalo fighting festivals across Vietnam said that there were many incidents in which buffaloes have reacted in a manner that scared the audience.

In 2014, a traffic police officer was chased by a buffalo at the Phuc Tho buffalo fighting festival in Hanoi but made a lucky escape. At the same festival a year later, some buffaloes that lost the competition rushed to attack their owners.

The public outcry that followed prompted the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism to order all “out-dated” and “uncivilized” festivals to end with seven events already having been permanently disbanded.

Now the Do Son Buffalo Fighting festival is the subject of debate. Many people took to social media to protest against the festival due to its cruelty and potential danger to others.

The most common questions asked have been the purpose of the festival and what defines victory when both the winning and losing buffaloes are killed?

Other opinions state that the festival is a traditional practice that should be preserved as long as safety requirements are met and the organisers change the “reward” for winning buffaloes. This is to ensure that Vietnam does not lose its traditions and customs or the country will never be the same.

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