Protecting the nests

No 3, Vol.11 , October – November 2015

‘Day of Tradition’ remembers a time when a navy defended swallow’s nests

A swallow bird at Hon Noi. Photo: Tien Thanh

Located about 15 nautical miles from downtown Nha Trang, the island of Hon Noi looks like the head of a seal looking out to the sea. It’s one of the rocky islands that host the largest conglomerates of swallows, which give almost 2/3 of the total amount of natural swallow nests that Khanh Hoa Salanganes Nest Company collects every year, according to the company’s managers. Around Hon Noi, there are dozens of other islands where the swallows live and make their nests in great numbers, such as Hon Ngoai, Hon Cha La, Hon Dun, Hon Cong, Hon Doi Moi, Hon Mun and Hon Xa Cu.

A corner of Hon Noi. Photos: Tien Thanh
Visitors may encounter sea gulls walking, flirting or sharing a catch on precarious rocks. They swing high above, their eyes scanning laced shawls of waves that curve around the islets. Getting into the swallow caves here to see firsthand the swallow nests that densely tile the sheer rocky walls is quite an experience, because one has to worm and push one’s way through narrow and treacherous entrances. This alone is enough to help one understand the perils of the swallow nest trade.
Hon Noi is also romantic, with its Twin Beach separated by a thin long dune. The water is crystal clear and cool. Visitors can board the tour boats of Sanest Tourist at the Cau Da (Rock Harbour) of Nha Trang to take an hour ride to Hon Noi. On the way they might see big colourful coral reefs at the Hon Sam area, enjoy fresh sea food at the fish farms of Vinh Nguyen, and contemplate the loneliness of an ocean watch post towering on Du Ha peak. One can also climb a few hundred steps to feel so tiny amid ocean and heaven.
On Hon Noi, one can visit the temple devoted to the founders of the swallow nest trade. On the 10th of the 5th lunar month every year, swallow nest collectors come here to remember their ancestors who pioneered the trade.

A swallow cave on Hon Noi. Photo: Khanh Hoa Salanganes Nest Company
In the temple, a stone stele tells us about the life and deeds of the island’s deity. In 1328, a Tran Dynasty’s navy ship drifted to Hon Tre in a big storm. Its commander, Le Van Dat, founded Bich Dam Village. He also discovered the swallow islets around the area and started the swallow nest trade of Khanh Hoa.
In 1769, his descendant, Count Le Van Quang of An Phu, and his daughter, Le Thi Huyen Tram, an admiral who headed the navy of Binh Khang District and Hon Tre archipelago, defeated foreign raiders and defended the region’s swallow nest trades.

The festival ‘Day of Tradition’ on the 10th of 5th lunar month on Hon Noi to commemorate those who founded the swallow nest trade. Photos: Tien Thanh
Then, in a battle to defend the sea, Le Thi Huyen Tram and Count Le Van gave their lives on the 10th day of 5th month in 1793. For that great sacrifice, the local people have deified Le Thi Huyen Tram as their guarding deity and built a temple to worship her.
Throughout our heroic history, Khanh Hoa’s swallow nest trade has always been part of the ups and downs, wars and peace of the nation. Today’s generation of Khanh Hoa swallow nest collectors maintains and further develops the traditions founded by their ancestors. They call the holiday the Day of Tradition. On this day, they gather around the altar of the forefathers and burn incense to recall their legacy and to report their latest achievements. It’s truly a respectable business culture.n

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