Vietnam’s top diplomat has affirmed that the Foreign Ministry will closely cooperate with its Cuban counterpart to implement the agreements reached by the two...
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam
330,900 s.q km
83,5 million (2005)
Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang, Hai Phong, Halong, Hue, Dalat, NhaTrang, Can Tho
GMT + 7 hours
Vietnam is one of the most beautiful countries in Asia. Spreading along the eastern edge of the Indochinese Peninsula, Vietnam covers a land area of 330,900 sq. km with the legendary world of Halong Bay, the colourful charm of Central Highlands and the criss-cross waterways of the Mekong Delta. The country boasts a marvelous coastline of 3,260km dotted with white sandy beaches, tranquil bays and vivid coral reefs. Vietnam also shares land borders of 3,700km with Laos, Cambodia and China. Moreover, with a tropical monsoon climate, all parts of the country are mostly warm the whole year round, which is ideal for those who love sunny weather.
Vietnam’s history can be divided into the main periods as below:- Prehistoric Era : including Pre-Paleolithic Age and Neolithic Age between 10,000 to 30,000 years ago
- Foundation of the Nation: About 4,000 years ago.
- Northern Kingdom’s domination from the 1st century BC to the year of 938.
- National construction and defense for independence from 938 to 1858.
- National independence and socialist from 1858 to 1975.
- Reunification from 1975 – 1986.
- Period of Renovation ( Doi Moi ) since 1986.
The Vietnamese nation was formed through a process of two major ancient cultures, the Chinese and the Indian.
As far as anthropology is concerned the Vietnamese people have their origin in the Mongoloid race, believed to be one of the major or races of the world and often found in northern and eastern Asia. At present there are 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Vietnam, in which Kinh (Viet) people make up nearly 90% of the whole population, and 53 other ethnic groups represent over 10%. 54 different ethnic groups inhabiting Vietnam can divide eight different groups by the Vietnamese language: – The Viet – Muong Group: Includes 4 ethnic groups: Chut, Kinh, Muong, Tho.- The Tay – Thai Group: Includes 8 ethnic groups: Bo Y, Giay, Lao, Lu, Nung, San Chay, Tay, Thai.- The Mon – Khmer Group: Includes 21 ethnic groups: Ba Na, Brau, Bru-Van Kieu, Cho Ro, Co, Co Ho, Co Tu, Gie Trieng, Hre, Khang, Khmer, Kho Mu, Ma, Mang, M’nong, Du,Ro Mam, Ta Oi, Xinh Mun, Xo Dang, Xtieng.- The Pa Then ethnic group – The Mong – Dao Group: Includes 3 groups: Dao, Mong, Pa Then.- The Kadai Group : Includes 4 ethnic groups: Co Lao, La Chi, La Ha, Pu Peo.- The Nam Dao Group: includes 5 ethnic groups: Cham, Chu Ru, Ede, Gia Rai, Raglai.- The Han Group: Includes 3 ethnic groups: Hoa, Ngai, San Diu. – The Tang Group : Includes 6 ethnic groups: Cong, Ha Nhi, La Hu, Lo Lo, Phu La, Si La.
Vietnam is proud of an age-long and special culture that is closely attached to the history of the formation and development of the nation. Historians have shared a common view that Vietnam has got a fairly large cultural community that was formed around the first half of the first millenium before Christ and flourished in the middle of this millenium. There were three layers of culture overlapping each other during the history of Vietnam: local culture, the culture that mixed with those of China and other countries in the region, and the culture that interacted with Western culture. The most prominent feature of the Vietnamese culture is that it was not assimilated by foreign cultures thanks to the strong local cultural foundations. On the contrary, it was able to utilize and localize those from abroad to enrich the national culture.
With 54 ethnic groups living across the country and each ethnicity having its own cultural colour, the Vietnamese culture is a diversified unification. Apart from the typical Viet-Muong culture, there are other cultural groups like Tay-Nung, Thai, Cham, Hao-Ngai, Mon-Khmer, H’Mong-Dao, and especially Tay Nguyen groups that still maintain fairly diverse and comprehensive traditions of a purely agricultural society that is closely attached to forests and mountains.
At present, there are still approximated 7,300 preserved historic and cultural sites over Vietnam, from which 1,500 cultural relics have been categorized. These relics are mainly concentrated in Hanoi and Hue such as relics of Hung Kings, relics of Co Loa Citadel of the Au Lac state, the Hoa Lu ancient capital in 10th century and the My Son cultural Heritage of the Cham people. Specific features of Vietnam are reflected in other cultural tokens such as legends, festivals, traditional theater, water puppetry, traditional music, dances and customs.
Customs & Habits
Worship of Ancestor Custom
Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even if dead for many generations, still rests along with their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons still have spiritual communion; in everyday life, people must not forget that what they enjoy and how they feel is the same for their dead relatives.
On the last day of every lunar year, an announcing cult, cung tien thuong, is performed to invite the dead forefathers to return home to celebrate Tet holidays with their families. During the last days before Tet, all family members visit their ancestors’ graves; they clean and decorate the graves, in the same manner that the livings clean and decorate their houses to welcome the New Year.
On the anniversary of an ancestor’s death, descendants and relatives unite and prepare a feast to worship the dead people and to ask for health and happiness for themselves. From generation to generation, ancestor worshipping customs have been religiously preserved. There are some small variations between those customs among the many Vietnamese ethnic groups, but the common theme of fidelity and gratitude towards the ancestors remains.
Villages – Guilds
In Vietnamese society, people gather together to form villages in rural areas, and guilds in urban areas. Villages and guilds have been forming since the dawn of the nation. These organizations have gradually developed for the population to be more stable and closer together. Each village and guild has its own regulations called conventions.The purpose of these conventions is the promotion of good customs within populations. All the conventions are different but they are always in accordance with the state laws.
Customs of Chewing Betel and Areca Nuts and smoking thuoc lao
According to legends, chewing quid of betel and areca has been a custom since the Hung Vuong period and is connected to the antique legend of betel and areca. A quid of betel, also called trau, is composed of four elements: an areca leaf (sweet taste), betel bark (hot taste), a chay root (bitter taste), and hydrated lime (pungent taste). The custom of chewing betel nut is unique to Vietnam. Old health books claim that “chewing betel and areca nut makes the mouth fragrant, decreases bad tempers, and makes digesting food easy”. A quid of betel makes people become closer and more openhearted. At any wedding ceremony, there must be a dish of betel and areca nut, which people can share as they enjoy the special occasion.
During festivals or Tet Holidays, betel and areca nut is used for inviting visitors and making acquaintances. Sharing a quid of betel with an old friend is like expressing gratitude for the relationship. A quid of betel and areca nut makes people feel warm on cold winters days, and during funerals it relieves sadness. Betel and areca nuts are also used in offerings. When Vietnamese people worship their ancestors, betel and areca nut must be present at the altar. Nowadays, the custom of chewing betel remains popular in some Vietnamese villages and among the old. Let’s not forget to mention thuoc lao or strong tobacco. For women, betel can initiate various feminine conversation, but for men, thuoc lao is related to their joyfulness as well as the sadness in their lives. Peasants always carry their dieu cay (pipe for smoking while ploughing the rice fields).
Getting married is an important event in a Vietnamese’s life. The procedure of the ancient wedding ceremony was very complicated. Current wedding ceremony procedures include the following steps: the search for a husband or wife, the proposal, the registration, and finally the wedding.
Depending on habits of specific ethnic groups, marriage includes various steps and related procedures, but generally there are two main ceremonies:
Le an hoi (betrothal ceremony): Some time before the wedding, the groom and his family visit the bride and her family with round lacquered boxes known as betrothal presents composed of gifts of areca nuts and betel leaves, tea, cake, fruits, wines and other delicacies covered with red cloth and carried by unmarried girls or boys. Both families agree to pick a good day for wedding.
Le cuoi (wedding ceremony): Guests would be invited to come to join a party and celebrate the couple’s happiness. The couple should pray before the altar asking their ancestors for permission for their marriage, then to express their gratitude to both groom’s and bride’s parents for raising and protecting them. Guests will share their joy at a party later.
“The sense of the dead is that of the final,” says a Vietnamese proverb, meaning that funeral ceremonies must be solemnly organized.
Formerly funeral ceremonies went as following: the body was washed and dressed; then a le ngam ham, or chopstick, was laid between the teeth and a pinch of rice and three coins were dropped in the mouth. Then the body was put on a grass mat laid on the ground according to the saying “being born from the earth, one must return back to the earth.” The dead body was enveloped with white cloth, le kham liem, and put into the coffin, le nhap quan. Finally, the funeral ceremony, le thanh phuc, was officially performed. The deceased person’s sons, daughters, and daughters-in-law had to wear coarse gauze turbans and tunics, and hats made of straw or of dry banana fiber. The deceased person’s grandchildren and relatives also had to wear mourning turbans. During the days when the dead were still laid out at home, the mourning went on with worshipping meals and mourning music. Relatives, neighbours, and friends came to offer their condolences.
The date and time for the funeral procession, le dua tang, must be carefully selected. Relatives, friends, and descendants take part in the funeral procession to accompany the dead along the way to the burial ground. Votive papers were dropped along the way. At the grave site, the coffin is buried and covered. After three days of mourning, the family visits the tomb again, le mo cua ma or worship the opening the grave; after 49 days, le chung that, the family stops bringing rice for the dead to the altar. And finally, after 100 days, the family celebrates tot khoc, or the end of the tears. After one year is the ceremony of the first anniversary of the relative’s death and after two years is the ceremony of the end of mourning.
Relegions & Belief
In Vietnam Buddhism is very popular and most Vietnamese worship their ancestor. There are some other religions in Vietnam such as Caodaism, Hoa Hao sect, Catholicism and Protestantism, Islam.
Buddhism was first introduced to Vietnam in the 2nd century, and reached its peak in the Ly dynasty (11th century). It was then regarded as the official religion dominating court affairs. Buddhism was preached broadly among the population and it enjoyed a profound influence on people’s daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples were built during this time. At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline. The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in social and cultural life. Presenty, over 70 percent of the population of Vietnam are either Buddhist or strongly influenced by Buddhist practices.
Catholicism was introduced to Vietnam in the 17th century. At present the most densely-populated Catholic areas are Bui Chu-Phat Diem in the northern province of Ninh Binh and Ho Nai-Bien Hoa in Dong Nai Province to the South. About 10 percent of the population are considered Catholic.
Protestantism was introduced to Vietnam at about the same time as Catholicism. Protestantism, however, remains an obscure religion. At present most Protestants live in the Central Highlands. There still remains a Protestant church on Hang Da Street in Hanoi. The number of Protestants living in Vietnam is estimated at 400,000.Islam
Islamic followers in Vietnam are primarily from the Cham ethnic minority group living in the central part of the central coast. The number of Islamic followers in Vietnam totals about 50,000.
Caodaism was first introduced to the country in 1926. Settlements of the Cao Dai followers in South Vietnam are located near the Church in Tay Ninh. The number of followers of this sect is estimated at 2 million.
Hoa Hao Sect
The Hoa Hao Sect was first introduced to Vietnam in 1939. More than 1 million Vietnamese are followers of this sect. Most of them live in the south-west of Vietnam.
Mother Worship (Tho Mau)
Researchers describe the Vietnamese mother-worship cult as a primitive religion. Mother, Me in the Vietnamese language, is pronounced Mau in Sino-script. The mother worship cult might be originated from the cult of the Goddess in ancient ages. In the Middle Ages, the Mother was worshipped in temples and palaces. Due to the fact that it is a worshipping custom and not a religion, the Mother worshipping cult has not been organised as Buddhism and Catholicism have. As a result, the different affiliations of the cult have yet to be consistent and different places still have different customs. The custom of Mother worship originated from the north. In the south, the religion has integrated the local goddesses such as Thien Y A Na (Hue) and Linh Son (Tay Ninh). In fact, the Mother worship cult was influenced by other religions, mainly Taoism.
Vietnamese Traditional Costumes
Traditional costumes of the Vietnamese people tend to be very simple and modest. Men wear brown shirts and white trousers. Their headgear is simply a piece of cloth wrapped around the head and their footwear consists of a pair of plain sandals.
For formal ceremonies men would have two additional items, a long gown with slits on either side, and a turban, usually in black or brown made of cotton or silk. In feudal times, there were strict dress codes. Ordinary people were not allowed to wear clothes with dyes other than black, brown or white. Costumes in yellow were reserved for the King. Those in purple and red were reserved for high ranking court officials, while dresses in blue were exclusively worn by petty court officials. Men’s dress has gradually changed along with social development.
The traditional set of a long gown and turban gave way to more modern looking suits, while business shirts and trousers have replaced traditional long sleeved shirts and wide trousers. Traditional costumes still exist and efforts are increasingly being made to restore traditional festivals and entertainment which incorporate traditional costumes.
Young women wear light brown-colored short shirts with long black skirts. Their headgear consists of a black turban with a peak at the front. To make their waist look smaller, they tightly fasten a long piece of pink or violet cloth.On formal occasions, they wear a special three layered dress called an “ao dai”, a long gown with slits on either side.
The outer garment is a special silk gown called an “ao tu than” which is brown or light brown in colour with four slits divided equally on its lower section. The second layer is a gown in a light yellow colour and the third layer is a pink gown. When a woman wears her three gowns, she fastens the buttons on the side, and leave those on the chest unfastened so that it forms a shaped collar. This allows her to show the different colors on the upper part of the three gowns. Beneath the three gowns is a bright red brassiere which is left exposed to cover the woman’s neck.
Over time, the traditional “ao dai” has gone through certain changes. Long gowns are now carefully tailored to fit the body of a Vietnamese woman. The two long slits along the side allow the gown to have two free floating panels in the front and at the back of the dress. The floating panels expose a long pair of white silk trousers.
An elegant looking conical palm hat, which is traditionally known as a “non bai tho” (a hat with poetry written on it), is worn as part of a woman’s formal dress. This traditional conical hat is particularly suitable for a tropical country such as Vietnam, where fierce sunshine and hard rain are commonplace.To make a conical hat, a hat maker chooses young palm leaves that have been been dried under continued sunshine. Attached beneath the almost transparent layers of dried palm leaves is a drawing of a small river wharf. Below the drawing, there is a piece of poetry to be recited by the hat wearer.
In recent years some foreign fashions have been introduced to Vietnam; however, the traditional “ao dai” remains preferable to women in both urban and rural settings.
In general, Vietnamese clothing is very diverse. Every ethnic group in Vietnam has its own style of clothing. Festivals are the occasion for all to wear their favorite clothes. Over thousands of years, the traditional clothing of all ethnic groups in Vietnam has changed, but each ethnic group has separately maintained their own characteristics.
In the mountain areas, people live in houses built on stilts, wear trousers or skirts and indigo vests with design motifs imitating wild flowers and beasts. In the northern uplands and the Central Highlands, the young women have made skirts and vests with beautiful and coulourful decoration in a style convenient for farm work in terraced fields and to travel on hilly slopes and mountain gorges.
Vietnam is a country rich in handicraft products, thanks to the hard-working, dexterous, and creative qualities of the Vietnamese people. For a very long time, handicraft products have been a source of cultural pride and a source of income for the people. As the varieties of handicraft products are too numerous to be fully introduced, only a few typical items and their sources are mentioned here.Ceramic
There are many villages throughout the country that produce ceramics. Some of these villages include Phu Lang in Bac Ninh Province, Huong Canh in Vinh Phuc Province, Lo Chum in Thanh Hoa Province, Thanh Ha in Hoi An (Quang Nam Province), and Bien Hoa in Dong Nai Province.
Bat Trang Ceramic Village (Hanoi) is very old. According to historical documents, products from this village were well known as far back as the 15th century.
Vietnamese ceramic is now well known in both the domestic and international markets. Traditional products include kitchen items and trays. The flower-patterned bowls of Bat Trang have been exported to Sweden, the cucumber pots to Russia, and the teapots to France.
Bamboo and rattan (tre, may, and song) are abundant sources of material used by Vietnamese handicraftsmen. The advantages of these products are that they are light, durable, and termite resistant.
Bamboo and rattan products from Vietnam first appeared on the world market at a Paris fair in 1931. Since then, more than 200 items made from these materials are sold overseas. Among the most popular are baskets, flower pots, lampshades, and bookshelves.
Lacquerware is really typical to Vietnam, although it also exists in other Asian countries. It is said that the resin extracted from the trees in Phu Tho Province is the best one. As such, the lacquerware products made in Vietnam are very beautiful and durable.
As early as the 18th century, people in Nam Ngu District in Thang Long (Hanoi) specialised in making lacquerware products. In its early stages of development, lacquerware contained only four colours: black, red, yellow, and brown. However, due to improvements in technologies in later years, additional pigment colours were made, therein, creating a wider range of lacquer colours.
Currently, Vietnamese made lacquerware products are essential in both the domestic and foreign markets. The renowned products include wall paintings, flower vases, jewellery boxes, trays, chessboards, and folding screens.
Craftsmen performing inlaying use different types of oyster shells and pearls, which offer a wide array of colours. This art form requires a lot of effort as the process of inlaying involves numerous stages, including designing, grinding, cutting, carving, chiselling, and polishing.
Inlaying is widely used in the furniture industry to make tables, desks, chairs, picture frames, and trays that portray various ancient tales. These tales are displayed as scenes of nature, such as birds, butterflies, lotus ponds, and banana trees.
The process of inlaying furniture has increased the value of wooden articles. According to legend, this handicraft originated in the Chuon Village in Ha Tay Province.
Most of the traditional sculptures are made in Danang Province, more specifically near Ngu Hanh Son Mountain located between Quan Khai and Hoa Khe villages.
Sculptors use marble to carve various articles of high value, including bracelets, ash-trays, Buddha statues, ornamental flowers, leaves and trees, and animal statues, such as cats and peacocks.
In the past, embroidery was mainly reserved for the benefit of the upper class, temples, and pagodas. The technique of this art form was rather simple, and it involved only five colours of thread: yellow, red, green, violet, and blue.
Presently, embroidered goods serve both useful and decorative purposes. New technologies have helped to produce new materials, such as white cloth, lampshades, and lace. As a result, the embroidery industry has developed and there is now a wide range of new products including pillowcases, bed sheets, and kimonos. The most skilled type of embroidery is the production of portraits, which requires using up to 60 different colours of thread. It is believed that embroidery originated in Quat Dong Village in Ha Tay Province.
As soon as the 2nd century, the Vietnamese were using gold and silver to create jewellery. There are three different techniques used to make gold and silver jewellery, including intricate carving, casting, which is the process of melting metal and pouring it into flower, lead, or bird shaped moulds, and common processing, which is a process of polishing metal.
These three techniques can be combined to make intricate pieces of jewellery. Because of the flexibility of the raw materials, the colour of gold, and the brightness of silver, beautiful necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, trays, and cups are created. It is said that gold work originated in Dinh Cong Village near Hanoi and that silver work originated in Dong Xam Village in Thai Binh Province.
Since the 1980s, the production of fine wooden articles has experienced a strong revival. These works of art have been much sought after in both domestic and foreign markets. The most popular of these products are wooden statutes and sets of wooden chairs, cabinets, and beds.
Currently, there are many companies dealing in tha production and sale of wooden items. Their skilled employees have produced many beautiful and highly appreciated products.
Copper casting is one of the most famous and enduring traditional art forms of Vietnam. With the help of technology, several ancient copper items from all over the country have been preserved. Approximately 3,000 years ago, ancient Vietnamese discovered how to cast copper to make brass tools, weapons, and ornaments; therein, initiating the metal age. Some brass statues that have been preserved serve as proof of the blooming period of copper casting in Vietnam. In later years, pursuing their forefathers’ talents, handicraftsmen created many innovative brass products that suited the needs of society. Some of the most famous copper pieces known today include a series of brass drums that were cast over centuries. As well, there are brass artefacts currently exhibited in Hue, such as a bronze kettle at the Imperial Palace (1659-1684), the bronze plaque of Thien Mu Pagoda (1677), the bell of Thien Mu Pagoda (1710), the Nine Cannons (1803-1804), and the Nine Dynastic Urns (1835-1837). Today, only a few copper casting villages remain, such as Ngu Xa in Hanoi, the casting quarter near Hue, and Phuoc Kieu in Quang Nam.
Traditional Fine Arts
Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups, each of which has its own traditional culture. The diversity of the ethnic groups is apparent in the many traditional and cultural Vietnamese treasures. These treasures include the various works of art found throughout the country, including sculpture, ceramic, painting, and casting, made from materials such as clay, stone, bronze, steel, wood, and paper.
Folk paintings are a combination of traditional cultural values with ancient artistic methods that have bean created through the labour of past generations. There are two types of Vietnamese folk paintings, Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) paintings and worshipping paintings. The Vietnamese believe in ancestor worship and the deification of natural phenomena, both of which are reflected in the paintings.
Due to their historical popularity, the folk paintings were produced in large quantities. This high demand was met through the use of the woodblock carving printing technique, which has been practiced by the Vietnamese for many centuries. During the Ly Dynasty (12th century), there were many families who specialised in woodblock carving. By the end of the Tran Dynasty, they were also printing paper money. At the beginning of the Le So Dynasty, the Chinese technique of carving printing boards was adopted and improved. The History Museum and the Fine Art Museum in Hanoi still keep old printing boards as archives.
During the Mac Dynasty (16th century), folk paintings developed quite extensively and were popular among the aristocracy in Thang Long. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the art of folk painting was stable and highly developed. Depending on artistic style, drawing-printing technique, and the materials used, folk paintings are classified into painting trends according to the name of their place of production.
Each style of painting is different. However, in all the styles, shapes are created based on the concept of don tuyen binh do (single line-simple designs), which uses lines to bend the coloured shapes and to make a border for the picture. Another method used is thuan tay hay mat (easy to draw and to see). With this design form, the folk paintings do not depend on the rules of perspective. The deities are large and take the upper positions, while the ordinary people are drawn on a smaller scale and the size of the animals and the natural scenery depicted depends on their relationship to the sentiment or story being expressed. These unique characteristics make the paintings profoundly impressive. As a result of cultural exchange, Vietnamese folk paintings have retained and developed certain traditional aspects. As well, the paintings have been influenced and enriched by the genius of other painting styles. One exception is Dong Ho paintings, which continue to exist unchanged against the challenges of time.
- Dong Ho Paintings
These paintings which originated in the Red River Delta, are the most famous. The artists coat do paper (the Rhamnoneuron paper) with diep powder (a white powder made from the shells of diep, a kind of fluvial bivalve mollusk) to make silver lustre glitter. Sometimes yellow flower powder called Hoa hoe or orange-red sapandwood powder is used to make the colours more elegant and shiny.
On that background, the colours are applied with a woodblock. Some of the paintings only have simple black lines, while others are printed with one other colour. All of the materials for creating the colours for these paintings come from nature. A wide spectrum of colours can be made using mixing and multi-coloured printing techniques.
Dong Ho paintings reflect people’s innermost feelings, wishes, and simple dreams. Because the paintings appeal to so many people, they are available throughout the country, from the village markets to the capital city.
- Hang Trong Paintings
Hang Trong paintings are also printed with black lines to form the basis for the colour. But, unlike Dong Ho paintings, they are made by hand. Large sheets of imported paper and brightly coloured paints are used for Hang Trong paintings. The content of these paintings are very much influenced by Chinese drawings.
Hang Trong paintings are popular as worshipping paintings in temples. As such, the paintings are often hung in spacious living rooms or in holy places.
Hang Trong paintings have traditionally served the poorer classes and are made and sold in the capital city.
- Kim Hoang Painpings
Kim Hoang paintings, which are often called red paintings, are made on the outskirts of ancient Thang Long. Kim Hoang paintings are printed and drawn on imported coloured paper (yellow, bright red, pink) and printed with black lines and shapes; other colours used to separate the shapes.
The colours are applied in rough, but flexible lines. Sometimes, the paintings are reprinted to create clear line. The colours used for Kim Hoang paintings are bought and then mixed by the painters, except for indigo, which is self-processed. The themes of Kim Hoang paintings are similar to those of the Dong Ho paintings, but there are also Chinese character paintings Phuc, Loc, Tho (meaning “Happiness”, “Good Luck”, and “Longevity” respectively), that have the typical flower of each season printed next to each character.
- Sinh Village Paintings
Sinh Village Paintings, which come from Sinh Village, a suburb of Hue City, are well-known in the central region of Vietnam. Most Sinh Village paintings are used for worship, and they express the mystical, nature-based beliefs of the ancient Vietnamese.
Among these pictures is the Tuong Ba (Statue of the Lady) painting, the guardian angel of women. Sinh paintings are made using just one printing-board to create the drawing lines and black shapes. After being printed in black, the work is sometimes completed with embellishments made with colourful lines. Some paintings are still printed on rustic paper.
Ca tru is now being restored and is more liked by the younger generation. Research scholars have traced the origins of ca tru to areas of high culture, such as the ancient imperial capital of Thang Long (present-day Hanoi), Ha Tay, etc. Artists of great talent have practiced the art, including Quach Thi Ho, Thuong Huyen, Kim Dzung, etc. Some of them are now in their seventies, but a successor generation has blossomed and holds great promise.
Ca tru is where poetry and music meet. People familiar with such ancient verse as luc bat (the six eight-syllable distich) and hat doi (singing tossed back and forth between groups of young men and women), and who are capable of sympathizing with the sentiments expressed in the sound of a small drum or a two-string viol, are more likely to fully enjoy a recital of ca tru. Many famous poets of past centuries were great amateurs of ca tru who wrote beautiful lines to go with its melodies. One well known instance is the poem singing the enchantment of a pilgrimage to Chua Huong (Perfume Pagoda) by Chu Manh Trinh. Coming from the lips of a ca tru singer, it has bewitched successive generations of pilgrims visiting the hills and streams of the famous pagoda complex in Ha Tay Province.
Ca tru music is most enjoyable when there is complete harmony between the words being sung, the rhythm marked by a pair of small bamboo sticks held by the singer who strikes a small block of wood or bamboo called phach, and, last but not least, the appreciation shown by a man among the audience beating a small drum at the appropriate moments. In short, Ca tru is a refined form of art which is paradoxically appreciated and loved by audiences of all compositions. There are those who sit in small numbers in an urban auditorium to enjoy a recital. A Ca Tru Club has been founded in Hanoi where amateurs of this musical genre, young and old, local and foreign, regularly meet to enjoy its charming melodies.
The birth place of quan ho folk songs is Bac Ninh Province. During village festivals, which are held every year, particularly in spring, young men and women gather in the yard of a communal house or pagoda, on a hill or in a rowing boat, and sing quan ho. This is a style of singing where songs alternate from group to group.
Quan ho singing is a folk art of a highly collective nature. Those who sing are not entertainers, but all are part of the performance, and anyone is welcome to join.
Vietnamese water puppetry has a long history. An inscription on a stone stele in Doi Pagoda, Duy Tien District, Nam Ha Province, relates a water puppet show staged in the year 1121 to mark a birthday of King Ly Nhan Tong in 4036 words.
Puppets are made of wood and coated with waterproof paint. Each puppet is handmade, has its own posture and expresses a certain character. The most outstanding puppet is known as chu teu which has a round face and a humorous and optimistic smile. The show starts with chu teu, dressed in an odd costume, offering joyful laughter. The pond and lakes of the northern plains, where crowds gathered during festival and galas, become the lively stages for the water puppet shows. At a water puppet show, the audience watches boat races, buffalo fights, fox hunts and other rustic scenes amidst the beating of drums and gongs. The characters plough, plant rice seedlings, fish in a pond with a rod and line, scoop water with a bamboo basket hung from a tripod, etc. The show is interspersed with such items as a Dance by the Four Mythical Animals: Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise, and Phoenix and Dance by the Eight Fairies, in which supernatural beings enjoy festivities alongside people of this world.
In water puppet shows there is a very effective combination of visual effects provided by fire, water, and the movements of the marionettes. The whole control system of the show is under the surface of the water, concealed from the audience. When fairy figures appear to sing and dance, it is calm and serene; then the water is agitated by stormy waves in scenes of battle, with the participation of fire-spitting dragons.
There are many contributing factors to the art of water puppetry, including such handicrafts as wood sculpture and lacquer work. The factors all work together to bring out charming glimpses of the Vietnamese psyche, as well as typical landscapes of Vietnam.
Cheo or Vietnamese Popular Theatre
Cheo is a form of stage performance that originated in the northern countryside. The word cheo means “lyrics of folk ballads, proverbs”. Traditionally, cheo was composed orally by anonymous authors. Today’s playwrights compose cheo along traditional lines. The characters in the plays sing time-tested popular melodies with words suited to modern circumstances. Human rights and the battle of good against evil are common themes. The joyfulness and optimism of cheo is expressed through humour and wit. In cheo performances, there is always an exchange between the audience and the performers. The performers, dao (actress), kep (actor), lao (old man), mu (female character) and he (buffoon).
At present cheo is an integral part of Vietnamese theatre and is well liked by people in both the country and in towns, and by foreign spectators as well.
- The buffoon in Cheo
The buffoon is a familiar character in cheo, in which there is often a blend of the tragic and the comic. He speaks the language of the people and shoots shafts of satire at evil-doers, such as ignorant witchdoctors, greedy landlords, or arrogant mandarins. He may wear a short coat, the garment of the commoner or a long robe, an article of clothing favoured by members of the upper classes in the old society. A couple of buffoons may appear on stage, including the master in a flowing gown and his servant in a short coat and carrying a stick, each speaking the language and behaving the ways of his class. The buffoon may make his entry right at the beginning of a play, carrying a torch or a megaphone and provoking wild laughter from the audience.
Cai luong is a kind of folk music that developed in the early 20th century. It was first played by amateurs in the south. Thanks to their soft voices, southerners sing cai luong very romantically. The performance includes dances, songs, and music; the music originally drew its influences from southern folk music. Since then, the music of cai luong has been enriched with hundreds of new tunes. A cai luong orchestra consists mainly of guitars with concave frets and danakim.