Religion and Faith

From the very old time, Ben Tre was settled by several ethnic groups such as Viet (or Kinh), Khmer, Chinese, and Champa, and all have harmoniously cohabited for as long as centuries. Along the timeline, they were intermingling in bloodlines as well as culture, especially religion and faith.

In general, each ethnic group is characterized with one of the primitive religions that has developed into main faiths in the region. The Chinese settlers, for example, are characterized by their branch of Buddhism taken along with their Southward migration, whereas the Viet group is normally seen as worshipers of their ancestors.

Since the high old time, Confucianism had been introduced to and adopted by almost all Vietnamese. This very old faith was generated by the Chinese philosopher Confucius, so is the name Confucianism to celebrate his great establishment of a way of life, way of thinking and behaviour, and many other rites that had deeply affected many aspects of life in East Asia for millenia. It followed the Northern (Chinese) invaders to incroach the Southern territory of Dai Viet, or the Greater Viet, and penetrate into the ordinary life.

Buddhism was introduced later and has replaced Confucianism as the most practiced religion among all ethnic groups. Later on came the Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism, which have been introduced since the early time of Wetsern (French and American) invasions. During the French and American invasions, Ben Tre Buddhists, like in many other provinces across Viet Nam, answered the national call to fight foreign invaders. Many pagodas here became hiding shelters for Viet Minh, and later Viet Cong, in their guerilla war against the French and American armed forces. Nowaday, Buddhism is one of the main religions in Viet Nam, along with Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.

Catholicism and other non-Buddhist religions

A new religion, Catholicism was introduced into Ben Tre by Western missionaries in the late 18th century. Ba Tri was the district where Catholicism was first practiced in as early as 1740 (others said it was in 1770). Three French Catholic priests named Pierre Luu (a blend of French and Vietnamese names), Pierre Thien, and Paulo Tuyet had come here to preach Christian dogmas. Giong Gia, Giong Tre (Ba Tri District), and Cai Mon (Cho Lach District) are known as the three oldest parishes in Ben Tre. Today, Catholicism is practiced everywhere in Ben Tre, with 85 chapels, 34 priests, 200 nuns, and nearly 100.000 parishioners.

Protestantism was brought into Ben Tre in 1925 by pastor Nguyen Chau Thong of the My Tho Protestant Church. He first spread the faith in the Ben Tre Town, then to several other districts such as Chau Thanh, Cho Lach,... In Ben Tre now there are 12 chapels, 1 pastor, and 12 clergymen serving for 451 followers.

Beside Buddhism, Catholicism and Protestantism, there is no Islamic practices, instead there are local faiths such as Dao Dua (Coconutism), Cao Dai (Caodaism) and Hoa Hao Buddhism. Each of these has its own system of teachings and dogmas, but none has any large base of followers enough to form a great nationwide system of faith.

In fact, Coconutism is not a religion but a course of practices by one person named Nguyen Thanh Nam. Mr Nam, who had studied abroad (in France), was strongly opposed to the French invasion, but by his own way. It is said that he practiced staying on the top of coconut trees and ate solely coconut meat, and no rice or any other food, as a way to protest the foreign invaders as well as the Vietnamese puppet governments.

In Ben Tre, there are 4 branches of Caodaism: Ban Chinh, Tay Ninh (Tam Ky Pho Do), Tien Thien, and Minh Chon Ly. The Ban Chinh branch was founded in Ben Tre in 1934, by Mr Nguyen Ngoc Tuong. Though of the same root as the Tam Ky Pho Do of Tay Ninh province, which was founded in 1926, the Ban Chinh Caodaism of Ben Tre has its own characteristics. On its foundation, the Ban Chinh Caodaism had 85 sub-branches scattered in 18 provinces. Now, it has 249 sub-branches in 24 provinces and cities. In Ben Tre, it now has 59 churches with 20,000 active followers. Tam Ky Pho Do (or Tay Ninh Caodaism) in Ben Tre has more than 50 churches and temples with about 10,000 followers, but after a criminal incident in 1982, this branch has declined and many of its members now just practice it at home. The third branch of Caodaism in Ben Tre is Tien Thien Caodaism, founded in 1927 in Tien Thuy Commune, Chau Thanh District, with 127 churches in 14 provinces 45,000 followers. Now it has 29 churches with about 78,000 followers. Its headquarters is still in Tien Thuy, Chau Thanh. Minh Chon Ly, the last one, has only one church in Binh Dai District with 145 followers. Of the above 4 branches of Caodaism, Ban Chinh Caodaism is the most active and helpful in the national liberation war against the American invaders. Some of its officials such as Nguyen Ngoc Tuong was taken into custody and kept in Con Dao Detention Camp.

The Practices of Ancestors Worship

The word "dao" (religion, faith) here is understood as good faith, good way of living and behaviour toward our own family clan as well as people around us. So, a person in the Mekong Delta region, particularly in Ben Tre, is seen as decent when he or she can fulfil his/her obligation toward his/her parents, grandparents and shows his or her warm treatment toward other family members as well as neighbours. Every home here has an altar to worship ancestors. So, he or she is also required to do the daily rite of ancestors worshiping: to offer burnt incense to the altar. The time of the rite may be at dawn (4 or 5 AM) or at sunset (6 or 7 PM).

There is a "ngay gio" (death anniversary) in every home when all the family members gather to remember their deceased grandparent(s), parent(s), or sibling(s). On this day, they feast, they toast, and they recollect their past memories with the deceased as a way to remember, to show their love for them. To prepare for this special day, family members go to the marketplace and choose the best of fresh fish, shrimps, pork, beef ... and cook in the most special manner in order to show their piety to the deceased parent(s) or grandparent(s). As an ancient rule (maybe rooted from the Confucian time) but strictly observed, family members must keep in mind the death anniversary days of their relatives. Or else, they are considered as irresponsible and immoral. They will be hated and treated as strangers.