The question arises as to why Anh’s narratives, unlike those of the Võ lineage, failed to win the support of the village. Before I try to answer, let me first refer to an article by Charles Keyes (2002) in which he analyses what is in many respects a similar story. Keyes reports that in March 1996, thousands of local people from Khorat in north-eastern Thailand gathered around a monument honouring the memory of Thao Suranari.

They wanted to publicly express their outrage against an ‘insult’ to her memory. This hostile reaction from local people, officials, and even military officers was provoked by the publication of a book by a teacher at a local university. The author shows in her book that the national cult of Thao Suranari arose due to a political agenda aimed at making the people of north-eastern Thailand identify themselves as Thai rather than Lao. What is interesting about this story, according to Keyes, is that the Thai author explained in her book how, over the years, the additional meanings of patriotism, regional loyalty, and gender equality were generated within the political framework, and actually eclipsed the spiritual import of the original story found in archival documents.

The author called for remembering Thao Suranari as a spirit rather than as a national heroine. However, such a postulate was unacceptable to those who wanted to recall the past ‘only in the service of national unity’

(Keyes, 2002: 128).

The narrative of Lady Roi seems to be a mirror image of the Thai story. As I have shown, by constructing the narratives about Lady Roi’s efforts to protect the island and its inhabitants in all times, the Ph m lineage manipulated religious and political categories in order to turn her potentially disconcerting ghostly spirit into a respected divinity and a local heroine for the entire community of Lý Sơn and even beyond.

Lady Roi, who tried to warn her father about the Chinese and, in a critical moment, chose a heroic death, can be interpreted as a metaphor for Vietnam: a victim that always has to defend its sovereignty and inde-pendence. In his story, Anh used the Chinese plot, which was analogous to the contemporary tensions between China and Vietnam and the Vietnamese struggle to prove their claims over the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos. The Chinese pirates symbolize China’s greedy desires for Vietnamese ancestral land. When Anh described his female ancestor as an indomitable heroine who has ‘awareness of protecting the dear


Making the Paracels and Spratlys Vietnamese through Commemoration

island’, he was referring to the centuries-old tradition of resisting foreign invaders. In this way, the lý lịch of Lady Roi served him and his lineage by crafting and documenting their own moral and patriotic identity (cf.

Leshkowich 2014).

Therefore, the question about why the Ph m patrilineage failed in its attempt to elevate its female ancestor to the position of heroine should be followed by the question: Can women in Vietnam ‘stand for’

the patrilineage, community, and nation? Ancient Vietnamese history offers a few isolated examples of women who became national heroines, such as the Hai Bà Trưng sisters and Bà Triệu, but their heroism refers to the distant past when Vietnam was not yet ‘Confucianized’ and did not yet conform to the Chinese moral and social organizational model.9 On the other hand, later, when Vietnam adopted Confucian ethics, popular legends recorded many examples of women who broke rigid Confucian rules and gained autonomous and high positions in society.

Recent ethnographic accounts report that many female spirits became increasingly popular among people precisely because of their ambigu-ous and undefined nature as young, unmarried women who had died violently (see, e.g., Dror 2002a; Taylor 2004; Endres 2008). However, what really matters here is that most of them were accepted by the state as ‘goddesses’ representing Vietnamese identity rather than as ‘national heroines’.

Nguyên Van Ky (2002) notes that during the Second Indochina War hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese women sacrificed their youth and responded to the revolutionary call to fight against Americans. Many of them died and had no time to ‘savour the taste of love, falling instead into the oblivion of history’. In turn, those ‘female warriors’ who survived lost the chance for marriage and found themselves ‘in such a state of moral and material abandonment that they have often had to form a communi-ty within the communicommuni-ty (village) to cope with the general indifference’

(ibid: 87). While the sacrifice and heroism of these women were never officially acknowledged, the Vietnamese state recognized the sacrifice of mothers whose children were martyrs in the Second Indochina War by giving them the honorary title ‘Heroic Vietnamese Mothers’ (Mẹ Anh Hùng Viêt Nam). In this way the state emphasizes the important

9. For more information about the Hai Bà Trưng sisters and Bà Triệu, see Taylor (1983).

Fishers, Monks and Cadres

role of Vietnamese women as mothers and their highest sacrifice for the country – the idealistic, militaristic understanding of womanhood glorified by the contemporary Vietnamese state (see Chapter 6). As we can see, the state also determines which female heroines would best suit the national narratives.

Despite Anh’s efforts, Lady Roi’s experience did not lie within the Paracel and Spratly commemorations’ ambit and did not fit into the state’s semiotic ideology of national heritage. Ultimately, she did not chase away the Chinese; she was not accepted by provincial authori-ties and villagers as a local heroine because ‘she did not do anything’;

‘she just died’, as the villagers said. She behaved according to gender expectations and Confucian ideology, which was ‘normal’ rather than

‘extraordinary’ behaviour. By committing suicide she avoided rape and saved the honour of her lineage, but it was not enough to consider her act a ‘heroic and meritorious death’ for the sake of the collective. Thus, Lady Roi’s death was seen by villagers rather as a sacrifice for the lineage than for the village or the nation.

In contrast to the ‘problematic’ sexuality of women which, from the viewpoint of Confucian ethics, if not carefully controlled and guided might bring shame upon a family and even an entire lineage, men con-form more easily to the cultural ideal of the ‘meritorious dead’ and can thus become the embodied model for celebrating the nation. Anh’s ultimate failure in his campaign to seek recognition for Lady Roi shows that only male ancestors of the Võ and Ph m lineages were accepted and acceptable as national heroes. In Vietnam’s neo-Confucian kinship model, only men can be full-fledged members of the patrilineage – girls were expected to leave their paternal patrilineage and marry into their husband’s patrilineage while remaining marginal at best in the public sphere. Hence only male figures can embody not only the lineage’s interests, but potentially also the broader interests of the community, at least in the eyes of those who wished to recentre marginal Lý Sơn Island in Vietnam’s imagined ‘geo-body’, composed of both territory and na-tion (Winichakul 1994). By integrating the familiar, gendered system of ancestor worship with reference to the sacrificed Paracel sailors into the national narrative, Lý Sơn villagers as well provincial authorities sought to restore the version of ‘collective identity’ of the community that better fitted into the frame of ‘national heritage’.


Making the Paracels and Spratlys Vietnamese through Commemoration


In the end, the question is not whether Anh’s narratives about Lady Roi are truthful, but what his narratives say about the past and the present, and how the past is remembered, preserved, and reconstructed in the present. As we have seen, the people of Lý Sơn did not remain indif-ferent to official politics and international dimensions of controversial disputes, but stretched them through the subtle tactics of indiscipline to produce rationalized ancestor worship practices that serve their desired ends. They constructed autonomous spaces for their vernacular religious practices not at the margins, but in the heart of territories occupied by state and religious ideologies (Mbembe 1992: 127). They outwardly adopted political language to promote their vision of religion without challenging the official rules. They exploit established ideologies, seek-ing to escape the state discipline without fully leavseek-ing it (Certeau 1984:


The state notions did not clash with the people’s view, but rather provoked reconstruction of their memory in terms that were more ac-ceptable to both sides. The process of constructing the present and the past was not about ‘what happened’, but about how ‘it may be under-stood’ (Toren 1988: 696). Local officials often played a crucial role in the course of ‘historical production’, as they were also members of the village and lineages. Moreover, despite their attempts to follow official ideological directives, villagers had personal preferences and preju-dices that affected the process of restoring local memorials. Villagers rethought, subverted, and manipulated national and local narratives according to their own culturally constituted desires. Reinstating the credentials of various lineages shows that villagers were able to selec-tively and tactically deploy signs and symbols across authoritative lan-guages such as ancestor worship and state semiotic ideology to further their own interests (see Keane 2007). Yet the examples of the Võ and Ph m lineages show that remaking the past is not a peaceful process that invariably strengthens local or national unity. It is, rather, a process in which conflicts and antagonisms cut within and through the state–vil-lage binary, as various groups and individuals confront one another with variable and potentially contradictory memories, understandings, and interpretations of history. However, such confrontations are strategi-cally restricted to specific fields of negotiation, defined by both the state

Fishers, Monks and Cadres

and local initiatives, while other parts of ancient and more recent history are passed over in silence.

Moreover, in this process ancestor worship is not only historically and politically constructed, but also gendered. In Lý Sơn, the multifac-eted interaction between modern cultural policies of the state and tradi-tional customs generated a creative array of encounters with the ghosts of those who died as Paracel sailors or, like Lady Roi, just as young, childless women. By integrating the familiar system of ancestor worship with reference to the sacrificed Paracel sailors into the national narrative (see Kwon 2006), Lý Sơn islanders attempted to relocate their marginal island to the centre of Vietnam’s land–sea map. At the same time, they sought to rework their narratives in such a way that they backed their lineage claims. Anh adapted his narratives about the ‘heroine’ Lady Roi to official versions and gave them their own meaning. He emphasized the continuity with the past, which plays such an important role in the state discourse. But the continuity, he stressed, refers to his lineage, his village, and his island. In terms of blood relations, he shows that the

‘revolutionary spirit’ dates back to the origins of his family and has been maintained over generations. His ancestors came to Vietnam’s defence whenever the country called them. Moreover, service to the fatherland was not only a male matter; exceptional courage also characterized the women of Anh’s family. However, as we have seen, in contrast to his male ancestor Ph m Hữu Nhật, who was acknowledged by the state as a ‘hero of the Paracels’, Anh’s female ancestor Lady Roi did not gain this honourable status. According to neo-Confucian ideology, she was no more than a ghostly spirit whose experience did not serve to broaden the official agenda of ‘national and cultural heritage’.

Provincial officials’ earlier support and later reservations regarding the inclusion of Lady Roi and her temple into the commemorative project of the Paracel navy shows how the central state, which faces international and local challenges, tries to control and shape the com-memorations by keeping them small. These comcom-memorations underline the connection of the modern state with the glorious rulers, with the history of ‘resistance’, and with the struggle over Vietnam’s sovereignty and autonomy rather than their continuity with the lineage, village, or the island. Similarly, the state makes a selection of those narratives of heroism and chooses those figures whose celebration best suits the


Making the Paracels and Spratlys Vietnamese through Commemoration

dominant history. The state, aware of the social power of commemo-rative rituals, did not allow female spirits to become a part of national anniversaries. On the other hand, local state agents have an influence on the state project. In the case of the Paracel and Spratly anniversaries, following both the official political line and their own preferences, they deliberately select oral histories, publish articles, hold conferences, and assign spaces that, taken together, recover and reconstruct the remote past in a way that promotes their interests. Nevertheless, narratives of women’s heroism continue to be relegated to specific fields that do not gain public recognition. The state commemorations are supposed to collectively venerate those whose bodies were lost in the South China Sea, whose names sank into oblivion while their bravery and heroism are still worth remembering. However, as we have seen, for those who live in the present this is not enough. They want the ghostly spirits to become the flesh and blood of their kin – both male and female – and to have their names carved into stone forever. This calls for a separate analysis of how in real life women deal with male claims to exclusive authority in the religious domain, which is the focus of the next chapter.

Figure 8: Women on the way to Thiên Y A Na temple, Sa Huỳnh.

C H A P T E R 6

Women and New Gendered

In document Proza znalazła się natomiast jakby w cieniu innych, uprawianych przez autora nuty człowieczej dyscyplin (Page 89-96)