At many centers that help people invoke the spirits of relatives or friends martyred during the war, the dead persons’ spirits do seem to enter the bodies of the living and guide them to the exact spot they were buried.
Hundreds of people come to a center run by Le Thi Hoa in Nam Dan District of Nghe An Province to find lost tombs of their relatives Photo: Tuoi Tre
How else can one account for the innumerable cases where a seemingly normal person – and clearly not a charlatan out to benefit – describes exactly what is beneath the ground, buried along with the dead person?
But just like with anything else that benefits many people, this has also attracted crooks out to make a quick buck.
In a country where it is a practice to rebury the remains of loved ones in a final resting place and to worship ancestors, it is not practicable to shut down all such centers just because some of them are dodgy.
It has become a headache for authorities in many provinces.
These centers have recently begun to mushroom in the central provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh.
One such is owned by Nguyen Van Bang, a former soldier himself, in Thach Linh Ward in Ha Tinh Town.
It is a big villa located in the middle of a large garden, with a shrine on the right permanently having burning joss sticks, flowers, and fruits.
In the garden are some 500 plastic tables beneath a large canvas canopy. Each table is used by a family as an altar to make offerings of flowers, fruits, incense to a picture of the martyr whose tomb they are searching for.
They take turns to pray and burn incense, hoping to invoke the spirit.
Bang’s family members stroll around, occasionally helping the visitors pray in the correct manner to “communicate” with the dead person.
If a member is possessed by the spirit of the martyr and reveals the location of the grave, the family immediately hires a car to leave for the place.
A relative of Bang’s, who acts as a co-organizer, says sometimes a spirit turns up after the family prays for just 2-3 days, while others may take months.
In Nghe An 15 such centers have opened in the last two months, attracting around 15,000 families.
So far they have managed to locate the graves of 810 martyrs in forests around the nation, mostly in the south, though none has ever been confirmed by DNA tests.
Tales from beyond
A center run by Phan Thi Hanh in Nghe An has proved a reliable destination for grave-seekers.
Hanh says she opened the center on the bidding of her martyred uncle’s spirit.
“A medium guided me to the grave of my uncle Phan Van Dung. After I brought his remains home, his spirit began to possess me and ask me to help find his comrades.
“The spirit even urged me to set up an altar and run my center to help find the graves of other martyrs.”
Several miraculous stories have emerged from this center.
Chau Thai of Village 1B in Nam Dan District was guided to the grave of his relative at a cemetery in Thang Binh District in Quang Nam Province. Even before the grave was dug up, the spirit said through Thai that a wristwatch had been buried along with the body. A watch was indeed found in the grave.
Tran Van Hung, who works at the Nghe An military headquarters, came to the center where the spirit of his older brother directed him to Gio Linh District cemetery in Quang Tri Province.
The spirit reminded him not to forget a hammock that had buried along with the remains. Again, the hammock was exactly where the spirit had described it.
Duong Tuan, deputy chief of personnel in the Nghe An Party Committee, found the remains of his uncle and older brother thanks to Hanh’s center.
“It can reliably be said that the remains are of my relatives,” he said.
But there have been numerous instances of people being guided to places proven to be wrong by army records and veterans’ testimonies.