A storied creek with a sacred history

(No.1, Vol.8,Feb -March Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Cam Luong Fish Stream,
Cam Thuy District, Thanh Hoa Province,
October, 2014
Photo: Nguyen Dang Van

A bridge crossing Ma River led me to the fish creek at Luong Ngoc Village, Cam Luong Commune, Cam Thuy District of Thanh Hoa Province.
The creek is 3m wide, a little more than 100m long, and the crystal-clear water only reaches the calves of my legs.
The 50-year-old chief of Cam Luong fish creek tourism management committee Mr Pham Hung Hau led me around the creek.
Mr. Hau recounted , ‘People here call it the dốc fish. It has a carp head and grass carp body. According to some research documents its scientific name is Spinibarbichthys denticulatus, listed in the Red List.’ Some colorfully patterned angelfish and silver rasbora also make this place home.
Sitting at the water’s edge I can see their every scale. This playful gorgeous fish has a white stomach, a black back with a touch, of gold and a red mouth and fins.
It has no fear of people although there are always crowds watching.
65-year-old Mr Truong Hung Dung was nostalgic, ‘When I was a child there were only about 20 huts here. Back then this place was desolate, full of dangerous wild beasts. The creek used to run a long way, not short like this. It was so swarming with fish you couldn’t walk in it without touching them.’
Adding to Mr Dung’s words, 61 year old Mr Bui Van Kien recalls, ‘The fish has been there since the beginning of time. When I was a teen, grass covered both sides of the creek and there was a little bridge to cross it. The water is never muddied, and the air is always cool, even at the peak of summer.’
The village elders assigned Mr Dung and Mr Kien to look after the pagoda by the creek. The two men don’t know how long the pagoda has been there. It stands between two shrines dedicated to the snake god and fish god.
I entered a stilted house near the creek belonging to 77 year-old Mr Pham Dinh Thuong. He related, ‘My parents were farmers. 3-4 generations of my family have been living here. I used to go to the creek with my mom and aunties to wash clothes. A remarkable thing is, the fish are so crowded but I never saw a dead one.’
‘Muong people who have been around here long before us say that this used to be a droughty place. There was an old childless couple who lived by catching fish in the creek. One day the woman saw an egg in the creek but didn’t touch it. The next day she saw it again. She took it home and let her chicken sit it. A little snake hatched out and became a family member.’
‘Since the snake’s birth there is no more drought. People are grateful to the snake for plentiful crops. But one day the snake was found dead by the creek. People guessed that the snake died fighting a water monster to protect the crops. They built a shrine to worship it. After that swarms of fish came guarding the shrine day and night. The villagers believe that the shrine and the fish keep their life happy, and so they always revere and protect the creek and the fish in it.’
Beside the fish creek of Cam Luong, Cam Thuy District of Thanh Hoa also has fish creek Mo Dong in Dung Village of Cam Lien Commune.
In 2016 a third fish creek was discovered at Chieng Ban Village, Van Nho Commune of Ba Thuoc District, Thanh Hoa Province.

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