The History of Cat Ba

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Cat Ba island
Cat Ba island

Pre-history

According to many researches and evidences, the history of Cat Ba have lasted for nearly 6000 years. Vestiges of an early settlement called Cai Beo.

These were unearthed in 1972, 1973, 1981 and 1983 by two French scientists. Hundreds of tools were found, such as pestles, grinding plates, wedging pieces, net leads and hatchets. Many were made from pebbles, or were rudimentary ceramic works made of clay and sand. Human remains were also found, along with evidence of their habitation. The Cai Beo settlement belonged to the ancient Halong culture that existed 6473-4200 years ago. These were perhaps the first people to occupy the north-eastern territorial waters of Vietnam that knew how to exploit the sea and to cultivate.

Cat Ba island
Cat Ba island

Folk tale of the Women’s Island

Cat Ba Island means ‘Women’s Island’. Legend tells that three women of the Tran Dynasty died and each drifted to a sandy beach on the island. Afterwards, the inhabitants built temples on each of the beaches and the island became called Cat Ba Island (Women’s Island) and the temples called Women’s Temples. Opposite Cat Ba Town is small Cat Ong Island (Men’s Island) which was once a secret place for soldiers to hide weapons.

French Colonial Period

The French had a presence on Cat Ba from 1947 till 1955, as it was a strategic coastal island. Cat Ba was important to the French, but the local people fought strongly to keep the island theirs. During this time, the local people often fled to the valleys, the forest, or even the caves, fearing the French. There is now a monument to local people killed by the French on Cat Hai Island.

US War

During the American War in Vietnam, Cat Ba (next door to Hai Phong, one of Vietnam’s largest port cities) figures prominently in the history books. During US bombing raids in the north, Cat Ba was targeted and bomb craters can still be seen in various place across the island. One of the key reminders of the war and its struggles for local communities is the ‘Hospital Cave’, which was turned into a key shelter in 1965 for those wounded in the war.

Cat Ba island
Cat Ba island

Today

People live in Cat Ba island: 20,726. Cat Ba Town is 8,600 people, six villages: 12,126 on boats and floating villages: 4,000, and on Cat Hai Island. Two general groups of people of people live on Cat Ba Island. The ethnic Vietnamese, on Kinh people, moved to Cat Ba after 1979. The second group are the Viet-Chinese, who are descended from fishing communities that have existed on Cat Ba for many generations. Fisherman and farmers live in Tran Chau (the oldest and largest village on the island); in Gia Luan farmers, fisherman and some hunters; in Phu Long fisherman and salt farmers; in Xuan Dam farmers. In the smallest village, Viet Hai, 200 people live in simple, houses made of bamboo, wood, leaves and earthen walls. It is a fishing and farming village, where the people are sincere, simple minded and very hospitable.