IF YOU must worship something, why not the whale?

They're right totemic of nature and they're kinda big. What more do you want of a deity?

I write after reading about the people of Ly Son who worship Ca Ong. I don't speak much Vietnamese but can tell you that Ca Ong means Mr Whale.

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Ly Son is a fishing community and the fishermen pray to Ca Ong in a temple which houses the remains of two giant whales. You'd think they'd be selfish prayers along the lines of: "Please let us catch lots of fish, Mr Whale, and we promise to be good."

But they're more prayers for safety and, along Vietnam's 2000 miles of coastline, fishermen bow before the bones of those they regard as guardian angels.

Ly Son Island's whale priest Tran Ngo Xuong told AFP news agency: "If fishermen encounter a sudden storm when fishing, and don't know where to shelter, then they pray to Mr Whale to help."

And does he? Well, I suppose he must, some of the time, otherwise they wouldn't carry on praying. Official media in the Communist country carry frequent reports of fishermen aided by whales. And, since they're in the official media, that makes them technically true.

A recent tale involved fisherman Dang Chau, whose overloaded boat got caught in a storm. "Then," said the report, "a giant whale came, swimming in front of the boat and blocking the boat so that the crew could sail back to shore." I see.

Good old Mr Whale. Students of divinity, however, will undertand that his blubbery jaickit's oan a shoogly peg as soon as he's caught napping on the job.

That, alas, is the fate of most gods. They always turn out to be rubbish. Let's hope Mr Whale doesn't have flippers of clay tae.