The reclamation period - The natural landscape before the reclamation period
Southern land of Vietnam, including Tien Giang, before Vietnamese people's exploration, it had been a wild land. Zhou Daguan, the ambassador of the Yuan Dynasty, on going on an inspector tour in Angkor Capital (Cambodia) in 1296, when going through the Tien Giang, said: "Hundreds or thousands of buffalo gathered in each flock. Moreover, several slope roads with full of bamboo stretched hundreds of miles. We passed through the Con Lon Sea and entered one estuary. This river had dozens of estuaries, but we could only enter on the fourth one (i.e. the Dai Estuary). The other estuaries had too much sand, so big boats could not get through. On the land, all we saw were immeasurably high ratans, secular trees, golden sand and white reeds. It was not easy to know how to identify the entrance with just a single glimpse" (1). Phan Huy Chu added, "Gia Dinh District, Dong Nai land and the seaports of Can Gio, Xoai Rap, Tieu and Dai all were full of wild forests with dense grass. Each forest might stretch over thousands of miles." (2)
At that time, because of being covered by thick forests and moors, Tien Giang was full of dangerous animals (e.g. tiger, elephant, wild boar, crocodile and snake, etc.) which were threats to the colonists.
Although, at that time, Tien Giang was favoured by the convenient natural conditions than Tonkin, namely interlacing waterways, adequate source of water, equable climate, little flood and drought, flat and fertile land as well, it also had a lot of difficulties. Sometimes, Go Cong coastal area was raged by storms and the shortage of freshwater. In the adjoining places with Dong Thap Muoi, because the land was infected by alum and flooded annually, production and life of the colonists had to face miserableness.
Society was insecure all the time because of the evil of looting. The settlers had to learn martial arts for their self-defense. In the Mau Than year (1868), Long Mon's Deputy Commander- Huynh Tan rose in rebellion, killed Commander Duong Ngan Dich and self-claimed Army General Phan Dung Ho. He commanded Long Mon troops, sought reinforcements from Cambodia, entrenched in Nan Canal (1), casted cannons and built warships to pillage from decent citizens. Lord Nguyen repeatedly sent his troops to suppress, and Huynh Tan was killed finally. After that, Lord Nguyen gave Long Mon's troops to Division Commander Tran Thuong Xuyen. Tran Thuong Xuyen garrisoned the troops in Doanh Chau (now belongs to Vinh Long).
The internal enemy and the external invader were the big threats to the colonists. In the At Dau year (1705), Siamese troops usually pulled down to harass and rob. Lord Nguyen sent Nguyen Cuu Van as well as his troops to fence and canalize from Thi Cai Pagoda to Luong Phu market (Ben Tranh), then ambushed at Rach Gam stream, the enemy suffered a so bitter defeat that they had to fall back to their country. In 1784, when Nguyen Phuc Anh sought reinforcement from Siamese, the invaders once again overran to the southern land of Vietnam. The Siamese troops robbed, murdered, burned houses and ravished women everywhere. Dozens of villages located along the left bank of Tien River from My Tho to Tra Lot (Cai Be) were trampled, people scattered everywhere. This event led to the biggest naval battle in the history at Rach Gam - Xoai Mut.
The epidemic diseases also made people anxious. Many large epidemics had killed a mass of settlers. In 1757, there was an epidemic in Cai Be. In 1820 (the Minh Mang's period), there was an epidemic spreading throughout the southern land to Hue Capital, which lasted several months and killed thousands of people.
Although there were many difficulties in the new land, they could not stop the footsteps of the colonists from Tonkin to find a new land.
The protohistory to the first half of the 17th century - The typical archaeological sites
1. Go Thanh Archaeological Relic
Located in Tan Thanh Hamlet, Tan Thuan Binh Commune, Cho Gao District, at 12 kilometers away from My Tho City to the East Northeast, Go Thanh Archaeological site was discovered in 1941 by L.Malleret - a French researcher (1)
The vestige, which is located on a sandy argillaceous ground is 3.0m high in comparison with the sea level. The relic area is about 10,000m2. Through 2 excavations in 1988, 1989, 1990, three different archaeological sites were discovered, including residential, architectural and burial site.
At a depth of 1.50m - 3.00m in the mound and a depth of 0.50m - 2.00m in the fields to the west and southwest of the mound, there are many pieces of the ancient pottery belonging to the Oc Eo type with a thick density, including pottery debris red, brown or no color, with decorative or no patterns; couple of faucets, several bones of beef, pork, fish; traces of charcoal ash, fruit peel with some processed spiles, some pear-shaped net lead made of terracotta, ceramic plumbs; small wheel-shaped or plum-shaped pitcher lids, etc. Analyzing the samples by carbon radioactivity C14, one of the exhibits has the date from 1585 + 80BP (i.e. the 4th century AD).
The architectural site is mainly occupied by brick architecture in the middle of the mound. Mostly brick grounds are not intact. There are three types of floor in the shape of quadrangle "room", notably there is a rectangular architecture in the north south direction with an entrance on the southern side. The internal brick walls separate the room into two equal parts; in the southern section, there is a rectangular architectural rock bolted at two ends, which has a stone altar having a hole in the middle. In the North, there are various traces of broken bricks arranged in a circle, with a diameter of 0.90m and a depth of 1.00m - 1.50m (from the pavement foundation).
Beside three room-shaped architectures in the room-shape listed above, there are another one looking like a road with a "roadway" and a "roadside" and a slotted architecture like a "spillway".
At the brick architectures, archaeologists also found numerous stone pillars with many decorative patterns: six valance's tiles were carved a Bodhi leafshape in the form of hollow of tube-tile. The Bodhi leaf embossed the meditating Buddha. Some bricks are trapezoidal, meanwhile some are cut into pieces or cut in angles with different sizes: 25.5cm x 14cm x 5.5cm; 24cm x 15cm x 6cm; 24cm x 14cm x 5.5cm.
At the sites and near the relics, archaeologists also discovered a male god's statue (its head and feet disappeared), an intact Visnu's and a Ganesa's statue all of them are made of stone, notably there is a piece of stone having Sanskrit epigraph.
The architectural traces and exhibits, which were discovered, show that they all are religious architectures. Identifying the structures (temples or towers) as well as its natures and functions is still an unknown to researchers.
In 2 excavations, 12 made-by-square brick tombs were discovered. Each is 1.80m - 2.00m wide on each side for non-mounded type and from 2.00m - 3.00m for mounded type located in the northeast direction and unevenly distributed on the mound's surface; especially, there are graves tiled to form "mound" on top with the height of about 0.60m and the extended area of from 100m2 - 200m2. However, some are not tiled so as to not form "mound".
The Crypt is about 1.50m - 3.00m deep. Its center is filled with many pebble layers, gray sands and crumbled bricks. There are three graves close to the bottom of the crypt, which are built by bricks or stacked on 4 logs, filled with sand, ash and square sheet gold or sheet gold with flowery patterns with many petals curved in elephant-shape in different positions inside. There is also a tomb whose exhibits are buried at four corners.
Exhibits found a Go Thanh archaeological site are very copious with 196 gold objects (intact and broken), notably 111 exhibits buried in tombs; six bronze exhibits, including two rings, one cymbal, one small bronze pipe and two trapezoidal bronze pieces; 22 stone exhibits, (noticeably one unharmed Visnu's statue, one male god's statue only the body left, one Ganesa's statue, one gemstone in purple, blue and pure white, one Yoni and one stone having Sanskrit epigraph); thousands of ceramic exhibits, including some faucets, six pieces of pottery in the shape of Bodhi leaf, the rest ones are the broken parts which are too hard to be identified .
Through analyzing exhibits and five samples by carbon radioactive C14, it is initially possible for scientists to identify that these exhibits and samples dated from about IV-VIII century AD when the Phu Nam people were still affected by Hindu too much. (2)
2. Ba Ket pagoda
Discovered in 1988, through an archaeological survey, located in Binh Phan Commune, Cho Gao District.
The pagoda is located on a mound, having area of about 3,000m2 and about 5.00m high in comparison with the surrounding fields. The Oc Eo bricks are outcropped in the middle of the mound. Here are one Visnu's statue and two Visnu's stone tables, which are worshipped by local people in a small temple.
3. Giong Ba Phuc Relic
Located in Song Binh Commune, Cho Gao District. Many traces of the ancient architectures are exposed from the ground. Here, local people discovered one intact Oc Eo pottery. (3)
4. Truong Son A Relic
Located in Hamlet 1, Luong Hoa Lac Commune, Cho Gao District. In the archaeological survey in 1988, one pottery, one Ganesa God's statue and some broken pottery fragments were found. Excavation showed no cultural layer of the Oc Eo era.
5. Buu Thap pagoda
Located in Tan Phong Hamlet, Tan Hoi Commune, Cai Lay District, on a large mound of over 1,000m2, with a height of about 0.50 m in comparison with the surrounding area. There is one small pagoda named Buu Thap.
According to farmers, while farming, they found many large brick seams, which are very popular in Oc Eo period, at the depth of 0.40m. Moreover, one small Goddess' statue in the pale sandstone, losing its head and limbs, only remaining a 10-centimeter soma, with round body and large bust, which are characteristics of the post Oc Eo statue, was also discovered.
6. Dia Thap Relic
Located in Hamlet 4, My Thanh Bac Commune, Cai Lay District, in Dong Thap Muoi wet land. The relic site is higher than the surrounding area from 0.30m - 0.40m. At present, there is a new pagoda, called Truong Thap pagoda. Many unbroken and broken bricks in reddish or gray-red color were found around the pagoda. Ancient bricks are piled up or paved the road. These bricks were scooped from the adjacent pond by dredgers at a depth of 0.60m and over 1 kilometer alongside the shore. Together with a great deal of bricks, there are a lot of ceramic pieces belonging to Oc Eo's type scattering , including one Linga, one Pesani, a part of altar and three architectural stone-pillar sections.
The stone exhibits are stored at the traditional house of Cai Lay District, having the similar characteristics of the same exhibits in the relics, namely Da Noi (Kien Giang), Ba The (An Giang), dated at from VI-VII century AD.
7. Go Tan Hiep Relic
Located in Tan Hiep Town, Chau Thanh District (now belongs to administrative area of the District Party Committee). The relic is distributed on a high mound of about 5 - 7m compared with the surrounding area, and occupies an area of about 3,000m2.
The architectural relic Go Tan Hiep is considered as the largest one in Tien Giang. This artificial mound, which is about 4.00 high, is covered its background by square bricks. The background bricks have the same size with the ones in Go Thanh Relic (Cho Gao). Currently, there is a large rock about 1.50m2 located outside the old brick citadel.
On the mound's surface, the architectures had collapsed. French colonialists had used the mound as a high point to build military posts. In Americaaaas invasion period, they also built the constructions works serving military services here. Nowadays, there are not any traces of the old citadel. Thanks to the survey, it is possible to predict that this relic is the central architecture related to the religion occurring during the late Oc Eo period (VII-XIII century).
8. Go Gach Relic
Located in Tan Ly Tay Commune, Chau Thanh District, situated on a high mound of the high land of Tan Hiep, occupying an area of 1,000m2. There is a temple named Kim Thach Buu Tu which was built long time ago on the relic. Here, there are still several outcropped bricks on the ground floor. Many bricks of the ancient architecture were used to pave or build the pagoda.
In the yard, there are many boulders, some are broken, and some pieces of the broken statues and pedestals. It is the fact that the relic is a religious architecture in the late Oc Eo period.
9. Go Sau Relic
Located in Tan Phu Hamlet, Tan Ly Tay Commune, Chau Thanh District, belongs to the area of Tan Ly Tay communal house, in front of People's Committee of Commune. The relic has outcropped lots of brick backgrounds near the communal house and brick seams laying at a depth of 1.00m and 20.00m from the southwest communal house. One semi-circular Visnu's statue, one stone axe, some debris of old bottles, one broken grinding table were detected. The survey on the bricks shows that relic may be from the late Oc Eo period.
10. Than Hoa Relic
Located in Than Hoa Hamlet, Than Cuu Nghia Commune, Chau Thanh District, belonging to Tan Hiep mound chain, in a wide area of thousands of square meters. The ancient culture layer is at a depth of about 1.00m - 2.50m, mostly sited on Cau Ke Pagoda - a higher mound on loamy sandy land in Than Hoa.
Many brick seams outcropped on the roads as well as in the yards and the gardens of nearby houses in the village. Some stone axes, one terra-cotta net lead, one big covering knob with a strange-looking shape and some boulders were discovered; besides, a numerous number of bricks belonging to Oc Eo culture were used to pave roads or build houses by local people. While once using the dredge to canalize, farmers had found many colored and non-colored pottery pieces, stone grinding tables, stone pestles and faucets. At Cau Ke temple, a huge rock with a hole in the middle is used as an altar stone. This relic is distributed over a large area; therefore, surveys, excavations and researches should be continued. Initially, based on the stone, ceramic exhibits and the bricks, it is possible to conclude that they are more likely from the late Oc Eo period.
(1) L. Malleret. ADM, 1963, vol.4, p.54
(2) Le Thi Lien: About the roofing material of architecture in the Oc Eo culture - Some issues of the archaeology in Southern Vietnam - Hanoi Social and Sciences Publishing House - 1997 - p.442
(3) According to Dao Linh Con - 1988, This relic may belong to the late period of Oc Eo culture