Without doubt with Vietnam steeped in ancient history, yet one of the fastest growing tourism economies in Asia, the welcome event for delegates and media to the ITE in Ho Chi Minh city this week had to feature the history of this great country, so what better than dragons, as in the first part of the video below and water puppets in the second part.
Water puppetry, in Vietnamese “Mua oi nuac”, translating literally into “making puppets dance on water”, dates back in Vietnam as far as the 11th century, stemming from the villages dotted around the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam, with Vietnamese water puppetry today based on this unique historic tradition.
The puppets are made out of wood and then lacquered, with as you can see from the video below, performed in a waist-deep pool.
Now, after checking out the second part of the video, if you are wondering how this all works, a large bamboo rod supports the puppet under the water and is used by the puppeteers, who are hidden behind a screen, to control them, meaning that the puppets appear to be moving over the water.
This all started when the rice fields flooded, the villagers would entertain each other puppets, with today modern water puppetry performed in a pool of water of 4 square meters with the water surface becoming the stage.
Performances today take place across Vietnam not just for tourists but also locals on ponds in villages with a staging area, on portable tanks built, or as here in the Rex Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City an especially constructed building.
The team behind the scenes can consist of several puppeteers who stand behind the split-bamboo screen decorated to resemble a temple facade, with puppets carved out of wood and often weigh up to a hefty 15 kg.
With rice, the main staple of the Vietnamese diet and growing in rice paddys, the original water puppet festivals were held in the rice paddy, with a pagoda built on top to hide the puppeteers who stood in the waist-deep water, with the water acting as the stage for the puppets and providing aa symbolic link to the rice harvest.
The orchestra is a traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music including vocals, drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, dan bau/monochord), gongs, and bamboo flutes and the singers of cheo, a form of opera from north Vietnam, telling the story being acted out by the puppets, with the musicians and the puppets interacting during performance, but do not be surprised if the musicians shout out a a word of warning to a puppet in danger or a word of encouragement to a puppet in need.
The programme is a series of rural skits, providing a strong flavour of Vietnamese folklore, telling the story of day-to-day living in rural Vietnam, based on Vietnamese folk tales that are told by grandparents to their grandchildren, stories of the harvest, of fishing and of festivals are highlighted, with legends and national history, with often have a humorous twist.
Check out the video below: –
An on location from ITE HCMC 2016 report by John Alwyn-Jones