Coconut religion & Phoenix Island

Con Phung (Phoenix Island) also called Tan Vinh Island, is located in village 10, Tan Thach Commune in Ben Tre province's Chau Thanh District. It is 12 km from Ben Tre province's major town and 20-minute boat ride from Tien Giang province's My Tho town.

Con Phung is very near Con Long (Dragon Island), Con Lan (Kylin or Unicorn Island) and Con Qui (Tortoise Island).

Con Phung, literally "Phoenix Island", in Ben Tre province, Vietnam's 'coconut kingdom', is one of the best-known islands in Mekong Delta. Like most other islands in the river, it is covered with fruit trees. What makes this 40 hectare island in Tien River, a tributary of the Mekong, so famous is that is was once the sacred center of the COCONUT RELIGION, which gained thousands of followers all over southern Vietnam before 1975.

Entering a museum devoted to relics of the Coconut Religion, we will find loads of black-and-white photos with captions in Vietnamese and English as well as old newspapers. They revealed that in 1963 a man called Nguyen Thanh Nam, who held a science degree from French university, came to the island to build a pagoda and set up the Coconut Religion (Dao Dua), whose principle was to eat coconuts and drink their milk, He himself ate and drank nothing but coconuts.

The cult used the essence of several religions, especially Buddhism and Christianity, as the basic for its beliefs. The religion attracted some 4,000 followers - including the son of American writer John Steinbeck.

Nam meditated almost all day long on a tower made of coconut trees, rain or shine. He communicated with his followers and their guests in writing. He ate once meal a day at noon, and washed once a year, on Buddha's birthday.

In 1971, he went to Saigon to run for the presidency of South Vietnam. He lost, and returned to the island to continue practicing his religion until 1975, when the local authorities banned the cult and all his followers left. He died in 1990 at the age of 81.

(Vietnam Economics Times - Nov. 2008)