Overview of traditional festivals
Festive activities are living museums in which typical cultural values of the nation have been preserved for centuries.
Overview of traditional festivals
Festive activities are living museums in
which typical cultural values of the nation
have been preserved for centuries.
Formation and meaning of
Traditional festivals constitute a form of
cultural activities, a spiritual product
which the people have created and developed
during the course of history. From
generation to generation, the Vietnamese
people preserve the fine tradition of
“remembering the source while drinking
water.” Festivals are events which represent
this tradition of the community as well as
honour the holy figures named as “gods” –
the real persons in national history or
legendary persons. The images of gods
converge the noble characteristics of
mankind. They are national heroes who fought
against foreign invaders, reclaimed new
lands, treated people, fought against
natural calamities, or those legendary
characters who affect the earthly life.
Festivals are events when people pay tribute
to divinities that rendered merits to the
community and the nation.
Festivals are occasions when people come
back to either their natural or national
roots, which form a sacred part in their
Festivals represent the strength of the
commune or village, the local region or even
the whole nation. Worshipping the same god,
the people unite in solidarity to overcome
difficulties, striving for a happy and
Festivals display the demand for creativity
and enjoyment of spiritual and material
cultural values of all social strata.
Festivals become a form of education under
which fine traditional moral values can be
handed from one generation to the next in a
unique way of combining spiritual characters
with competition and entertainment games.
|Chu Dong Tu
Festivals are also the time people can
express their sadness and worries in a wish
that gods might bestow favour on them to
help them strive for a better life.
Process of festivals
Generally speaking, every festival will
include the following three steps:
preparation work is divided into two phases:
prior to the coming festive season and in
the immediate time before the festive day.
The preparation work for the coming festive
season starts right after the previous
festival comes to an end. When it is coming
to the festive day, people need to check the
worshipping objects, attires, decoration,
and cleaning of the worshipping place and
The festive day:
Many activities take place, including
rituals of procession, incense offering, and
rejoicing games, among others. They form the
most important and significant part of any
festival. These activities also play a
decisive role in attracting tourists and
deciding the timing of the festival itself.
The ending of the
festival: The organization board
expresses their thanks to all festival goers
and closes the worshipping place.
Time for festivals
In Vietnam festivals often take place during
the three months in spring and in autumn
when people have a lot of leisure time. In
addition, the climate in spring and autumn
is especially suitable for holding festivals
and for festivals goers to enjoy.
Festivals require many compulsory rituals, which are carried out in a strict order from the preparation to the ending of a festival. In general, a festival has the following rituals:
Festivals require many
compulsory rituals, which are carried out in
a strict order from the preparation to the
ending of a festival. In general, a festival
has the following rituals:
Statue washing rite
is performed at mid-night of the day before
the festival. This rite is preceded by a
ceremony of water procession in some places.
A ceremony to inform gods must be held prior
to this statue-washing rite.
Next is the
rite of wearing hats and costumes for gods’
statues or putting them in their worshipping
tablets if gods have no statue. After that,
the statues of gods (or worshipping tablets,
even costumes) are put in the palanquin,
ready for the procession on the opening of
A festival often includes the procession of
gods, tutelary gods, royal order and water,
of which the first and fourth rite are most
popular. The content and meaning of the
procession ritual vary from festival to
festival with regard to the object of
procession, its organization and
participants. The procession of gods and
water processions are usually carried out
prior to the opening and closing ceremonies
of the festival accordingly.
Festivals, as mentioned above, are to honour
holy figures, i.e. gods or divinities to
whose temples and shrines are dedicated.
Very often a festival takes place in the
courtyard of the village’s communal house
which is spacious and convenient for the
conduct of liturgical processes and
rejoicing activities. As such, the ritual of
god procession is held along the route from
their places of worship to the place of
liturgy. At the end of the festival, another
procession will bring gods’ statues back to
their temples. After the procession ritual
are the ritual of presenting offerings to
gods and the opening of the festival. In
many festivals, a procession of the oration
dedicated to gods is held every day. Each
day a different oration is used.
In traditional festivals it is required that
participants in the procession ritual must
be men above 18 years old who are selected
carefully on the basis of their physical
strength and good ethics. Women can join the
procession group in such festivals as Phu
Day or Ha Loi
which dedicate to
goddesses. Anyone who is chosen to become a
member of the procession group must consider
it his/her own honour and his/her family.
way, each procession bears its own symbol.
People beat drums and gongs (formerly
firecrackers were used) to signal the
departure of the procession.
On the closing day of the festival, a final
ritual is held with all processes required.
Rice cooking competitions (thi thoi com)
During Tet, a number of villages in northern and central Vietnam hold cooking contests that may sound simple, but follow strict and complex rules: Cooking in the wind and rain. Tu Trong Village, Thanh Hoa Province has a temple dedicated to the 11th century warrior Le Phung Hieu.
Rice cooking competitions (thi thoi com)
During Tet, a number of villages in northern
and central Vietnam hold cooking contests
that may sound simple, but follow strict and
complex rules: Cooking in the wind and rain.
Tu Trong Village, Thanh Hoa Province has a
temple dedicated to the 11th
century warrior Le Phung Hieu.
During the temple's weeklong festival the
first week of Tet, villagers hold culinary
competitions: cooking ordinary rice in
water, steaming sticky rice and making rice
Contestants cook in the open air while in a
bamboo boat floating on the village pond.
Charcoal, the usual fuel, is prohibited.
Instead, each competitor receives some dried
sugar cane, which burns only with
difficulty. The challenge increases if it is
windy and raining. Each contestant must set
her rice pot in exactly the right place to
take advantage of the wind and avoid
extinguishing the fire.
The competition begins precisely at dawn.
Hundreds of boats are tied up along the pond
bank since as many as 200 young women may
After a salvo of drumbeats, competitors step
into their boats, bringing along cooking
tripods, rice pots, some damp straw and
fuel. They row to the centre of the pond,
make a fire and wash the rice.
A second salvo of drumbeats sounds,
punctuated by three final beats, the
competition starts. The cooking may be done
in one pot after another or by using all
pots al the same time. The tiny, light boat
sways with the competitor's every movement,
keeping the craft stable while cooking is
like performing a circus act. The competitor
who finishes first wins, but quality also
counts. People from many villages watch from
the pond bank, mothers who have trained
their girls for months impatiently wait for
the results of their efforts. Other women
take advantage of the occasion to look for
prospective daughters-in-law who are both
good cooks and can also face difficulties
Contests for boys and girls villagers in
Chuong Village of Ha Tay Province organise
similar competitions separately for boys and
girls. Female participants must cook rice on
the ground while simultaneously carrying a
six-to seven-month-old baby from another
family on her hip. She must console the
infant when he or she cries. At the same
time, she must prevent a toad from jumping
out of a chalk circle drawn around her. The
competition is all the more difficult
because the spectators, especially children,
take every opportunity to tease the baby.
The contest for boys is no less rigorous.
Each boy must stand ready with all the
necessary items (rice, water, matches and
firewood) on a light boat moored the pond
bank. At a given signal he paddles with his
hands to the opposite bank, where a row of
pots is placed on tripods. He must stay in
his unmoored boat while cooking the rice on
the bank. The least loss of balance tosses
him over into the water.
In Tich Son Village of Vinh Phuc Province, a
cooking competition takes place on the
morning of the fourth day after Tet. The
finished rice must meet particular criteria
of taste and consistency. Contestants use
two pots. First they boil the rice in a
copper pot over the fire. Once the water
boils, they pour both the rice and water
into an earthen pot and cook the rice over
charcoal until done.
Spinning Tops (con quay)
In summertime, groups of children often play with tops along Hanoi’s streets and alleys. Their enthusiasm and happy laughter attract an audience, old and young, and remind older viewers of their younger days.
Spinning Tops (con quay)
In summertime, groups of children often play
with tops along Hanoi’s streets and alleys.
Their enthusiasm and happy laughter attract
an audience, old and young, and remind older
viewers of their younger days.
The folk pastime of top spinning still
charms city children despite the popularity
of modern games such as bowling,
skateboarding, billiards and video games.
In the countryside, most children make their
own tops out of guava, jackfruit, or longan
wood. Sometimes they fashion tops from
buffalo horn, though there tops are rare
because horns are harder to obtain and more
difficult to shape. City children frequently
use wood scraps left from making furniture
to fashion their tops. To Tich Street in
Hanoi’s Old Quarter is famous for trading
tops. A top has three parts: the head, body
and nail. The head is shaped into a
cylinder. The body is a sphere; the string
is wound around its upper part. The nail
must be accurately fixed into the bottom
point of the top. Children in the
countryside make strings from dry maize
leaves; Hanoi children often use parachute
string or cord.
The simplest way to spin a top is to “drop”
it. The player uses his or her ring finger
and little finger to press the cord or
string against the nail at the knot. He or
she holds the top firmly with the thumb and
two remaining fingers so that its nail
points upwards. Then he or she “drops” the
top in three rapid steps: first, pushing the
top forward while turning the wrist to point
the nail downwards, then releasing the top;
and rapidly pulling the string.
Once the top is spinning, players can use
the string to move the top in the desired
direction. When the top wavers, the player
runs the string against the nail and pulls
powerfully in the direction the top is
turning. This keeps the top spinning longer.
Although tops are among the simplest of
toys, excited children spinning tops create
one of Hanoi’s most vivid and boisterous
Bamboo Jacks (choi chuyen)
This girls' game (chơi chuyen) includes ten thin, well-sharpened, round bamboo sticks and a ball, which traditionally is a fig, a miniature variety of eggplant, a small rock or a clod of clay.
Bamboo Jacks (choi chuyen)
This girls' game (chơi chuyen) includes ten
thin, well-sharpened, round bamboo sticks
and a ball, which traditionally is a fig, a
miniature variety of eggplant, a small rock
or a clod of clay.
These days, tennis balls are becoming more
popular as a substitute. The player tosses
the ball into the air. While the ball is in
the air, she must quickly pick up the sticks
and then catch the ball.
Players often recite a singsong nonsense
rhyme: "Cai mot... Cai mai... Cai co… So
mang... Thang chang... Con chit... Ngam nga...
Ngam nguyt... Chuot chit... Sang ban doi…"
In the first round, the player picks up the
slicks one by one. Next, she gathers two
sticks at a time, and so forth up to ten. In
these stages she plays with only one hand.
The girl picks up sticks and catches the
ball while reciting the rhyme. Meanwhile,
her face reddens and her eyes become intense
as she performs in front of her friends.
The peak of the game is the last, most
animated stage with all ten sticks in a
bundle. During this stage, the player losses
the ball and then transfers (chuyen) the
pack of sticks from one hand to the other.
She must successively switch the bundle,
first once, then twice, then three or even
more times before catching the ball. The
hands of a girl playing chuyen open
and close like small, nimble butterflies. If
a player's hands are not swift or if her
eyes are not sharp, or if she fails to
coordinate the two, she will lose her turn.
The game will pass to the next girl. Playing
chuyen warms up the body and
creates a lot of fun. During summer or
autumn, small girls play it everywhere, from
the shade of a village banyan tree to a
deserted market stall.
Kites that make music (dieu sao)
Kite flying is popular throughout the year in Viet Nam but especially so in summer. People of different ages make kites of many shapes, sizes and materials.
Kites that make music (dieu sao)
Kite flying is popular throughout the year
in Viet Nam but especially so in summer.
People of different ages make kites of many
shapes, sizes and materials.
Children's kites are often small, simple and
covered with paper, while adults' kites may
be more complex, cloth-covered, and feature
one or more wind flutes that play melodies
as the kites fly.
A typical adult's kite has four parts: the
body, the steering string, the flying string
and flutes. The frame is made of the smooth
outer bamboo stalk and is well polished.
Kite-makers shape bamboo straps into a
crescent two to three metres long and one
metre wide. After that, they cover the frame
with pieces of cotton cloth or carefully
glued paper. If one half of the kite is
heavier than the other, the steering string
will help balance it. This string also
serves lo direct flight and protect the kite
wings from breaking if the wind is too
strong. The flying string is also made of
bamboo and can be as long as 100m to 150m.
Young bamboo straps the size of chopsticks
are tied together, then boiled in water or
even in traditional Chinese medicine and
salt so that the string becomes soft and
Kites not only attract people by their
shapes and colours but also by their flutes.
Flutes of different sizes and materials can
make the sound of birds, car horns, gongs or
music. The mouth of the flute must be
skillfully carved so that it can properly
receive the wind and create the desired
Today, villagers build more sophisticated
kites in the shape of phoenixes, butterflies
and dragons. They replace thick bamboo
strings with thinner bamboo or plastic rope.
Modern kites are very light and cost little
since the materials to make them are readily
People often fly kites in the late afternoon
as the sun begins to set. Normally, two
people fly one kite. One person holds the
flying string while the other takes the kite
and runs into the wind until the wind lifts
The two may keep the kite high in the sky
from day to day, even from summer to autumn.
Every year, kite-flying competitions take
place in many northern and central
provinces. The rules vary from place to
place. In general, the most beautiful kite
with the most interesting flute melodies
wins. However, Quang Yen Townlet (Quang Ninh
Province) holds a kite-fighting competition:
regardless of design, kites that hit or
break other kites win.
The game of squares (O an quan)
Either boys or girls, usually age’s seven to ten, play the two-person game of O an quan (literally "Mandarin's Box"). They draw a rectangle on the ground and divide it into ten small squares called "rice fields" or "fish ponds.
The game of squares (O an quan)
Either boys or girls, usually age’s seven to
ten, play the two-person game of O an
quan (literally "Mandarin's Box"). They
draw a rectangle on the ground and divide it
into ten small squares called "rice fields"
or "fish ponds.
"They also draw two additional semi-circular
boxes at the two ends of the rectangle,
which are called"mandarin's boxes," hence
the game's name. Each person has 25 small
pebbles and a bigger stone.
Each player places the stone in one of the
mandarin's boxes and five small pebbles in
each of the other squares (see diagram
above). Then the game begins. The first
player takes up the contents of one square
on his or her side of the board (but not a
mandarin's box) and distributes the pebbles
one by one, starting with the next square in
either direction. (Since each square
contains five pebbles at the beginning, the
first move will distribute five pebbles to
the left or right).
After the last pebble is distributed, the
player takes the contents of the following
square and repeats the distribution process.
But if the following square is one of the
mandarin's boxes, the turn ends and passes
to the other player.
If the last pebble falls into a square that
precedes one empty square, the player wins
all the contents of the square following the
empty square and removes these pebbles from
the board. If this square is followed by
another empty square, the player wins the
contents of the square after that, and so
on. However, if there are two or more empty
squares in a row, the player loses his or
Once a player has taken pebbles from the
board, the turn is handed to the other
player. If all five squares on one player's
side of the board are emptied at any time,
that player must place one pebble he or she
has aside back in each of the five squares
so that the game can resume.
The game continues until the two mandarins'
boxes have both been taken. At the end of
the game, the player with more pebbles wins,
with each of the large stones counting as
ten points. If each player retrieves an
equal number of points, then the game is a
tie. O an quan remains deservedly
popular among older children since it
requires good counting skills and
forethought in order to win.
Cat and Mouse Game (meo duoi chuot)
Each game requires between seven and ten people. They stand in a circle, hold hands and raise their hands above their heads. Then they start singing the song.
Cat and Mouse Game (meo duoi chuot)
Each game requires between seven and ten
people. They stand in a circle, hold hands
and raise their hands above their heads.
Then they start singing the song.
Please come over here
Hand in hand
Stand in a large circle
The mouse will run through the hole
The cat will run after it
The mouse tries to run as fast as possible
But it can't escape
Then the mouse will act as the cat and
chase the cat, which is now the mouse.
How to play
Each game requires between
seven and ten people. They stand in a
circle, hold hands and raise their hands
above their heads. Then they start singing
the song above. One person is chosen as the
cal and another as the mouse. These two
stand in the middle of the circle and lean
against each other. When the others sing the
last sentence, the mouse starts to run, and
the cat must run after it. However, the cat
must run in exactly the same route and
manner as the mouse. The cat wins the game
when it catches the mouse. Then the two
exchange roles. If the cal runs into the
wrong hole, it will be dismissed from that
If it fails to catch the mouse in a certain
period of time (usually from three to five
minutes for kindergarten-age children) it
will exchange its role with the mouse. The
game will then continue.
The Game of the Dragon-Snake (rong ran)
A large group plays the children's game rong ran (dragon-snake). In One person sits on a small hill or some location above the other players; he or she acts as the doctor. The other children stand in a line, holding each other's belts to form the body of the dragon-snake.
The Game of the Dragon-Snake (rong ran)
A large group plays the children's game rong
ran (dragon-snake). In One person sits on a
small hill or some location above the other
players; he or she acts as the doctor. The
other children stand in a line, holding each
other's belts to form the body of the
The dragon-snake approaches the doctor. The
following dialogue occurs between the doctor
and the head of the line:
- Where are you going, dragon-snake?
- I’m searching for medicine for my son.
- How old is he, your son?
- He is one year old. - The doctor is not
- He is (two, three, four, five... repeated
each time) years old. - The doctor is not
The dialogue continues until the
- He is ten years old.
Then the doctor answers:
- All right, the doctor is well.
With this, the doctor stands up and says:
- Give me your head
- Nothing but the bones
Responds the dragon-snake
- Give me the body.
- Nothing but the blood.
- Give me the tail.
- Pursue at will!
At this, the doctor flies into a rage and
attempts lo catch the child who represents
the tail of the dragon-snake. The head of
the line stretches his or her arms to bar
the doctor while the dragon-snake tries to
make a circle. If the dragon-snake succeeds
in rolling into a circle before the
physician can touch the tail, it wins. On
the contrary, if the doctor catches the tail
of the dragon-snake, the entire group loses
the game. All losers must stretch out their
hands, palms downwards, to the winner, who
slaps them one after another.
Throwing a sacred ball through the ring (nem con)
Each ethnic group in Vietnam has unique ways of celebrating Tet. The Tay people of Cao Bang and Lang Son Provinces have a special Tet game that not only ushers in the spring but also serves as a matchmaker.
Throwing a sacred ball through the ring (nem
Each ethnic group in Vietnam has unique ways
of celebrating Tet. The Tay people of Cao
Bang and Lang Son Provinces have a special
Tet game that not only ushers in the spring
but also serves as a matchmaker.
According to Tay legend, Pia, an orphan, war
poor and lonely. Discouraged with life, he
went to the forest and gathered pieces of
fruit to throw around. One time, he threw a
fruit so hard it flew straight to heaven,
where a fairy caught it. The fairy flew down
to the earth to play with Pia. Before long,
they fell in love and became husband and
The people of the mountain village believed
that the fruit had brought Pia happiness. To
celebrate this story, young men and women
toss balls (nem con) each year from the
third day of Tet until the end of the first
Players gather on a level field where
villagers have planted a tall bamboo tree. A
bamboo ring about 30-40 cm in diameter hangs
from the tree. Gaudy fabric covers the
balls, which the makers have stuffed with
rice grains (representing food) and cotton
seeds (clothing) along with their hidden
desires. A multicoloured tassel decorates
According to tradition, before playing, the
Tay people first prepare a tray of food,
which they take to the field and offer to
the Sky and Earth. Two balls and a bamboo
ring on the tray represent vitality and
virtue. The festival leader, who must have
high status, prays to the Sky and Earth lo
brings rain so that the community will have
a good harvest. After this ceremony, the
leader tosses the two balls high into the
air. Everyone competes to catch them,
signaling the beginning of festivities.
At that point, each family may throw its own
household ball through the bamboo ring for
good luck. Naturally, some balls do not make
it through on the first try. The owners may
try over and over until they are successful.
The festival leader closes with a prayer for
a good planting season, then slashes the
ball open and distributes seeds to everyone.
These seeds bring good luck and will sprout
quickly because they unite the forces of
am and duong (yin and yang) in
the warmth of women's and men's hands.
Everyone receives the holy seeds of the Sky,
the Earth and Humanity with the belief and
hope that their crops will increase, people
will prosper and the entire village will
have sufficient food, clothing and
happiness. For this reason, the ball game is
a major feature of Tay tradition.
Releasing pigeons (tha chim
A long with other traditional festival games, releasing pigeons has attracted numerous participants since the distant past. Some villages including Tam Giang and Hoan Son villages in Bac Ninh Province still maintain the tradition.
Releasing pigeons (tha chim)
A long with other traditional festival
games, releasing pigeons has attracted
numerous participants since the distant
past. Some villages including Tam Giang and
Hoan Son villages in Bac Ninh Province still
maintain the tradition.
Every year, Hoan Son and Tam Giang villagers
organise bird-releasing festivals in the
early summer and mid autumn during the third
and the eighth lunar months. Each family
raises two or three flocks of pigeons.
Judges stipulate that each flock in the
spring contest may have ten pigeons but only
eight in the autumn. The contests are open
to anyone-not just Bac Ninh residents. Bird
lovers use these occasions to exchange
experiences and learn from each other.
The Judges consist of the trich ha,
who distributes numbers to participants and
then call the numbers for the birds'
release, and the trich thuong, who
observes the arrangement of birds in the sky
to determine the winner, a flock of birds
flies beautifully when all their heads
huddle together. Seen from the ground, they
look like an arrow disappearing on the
"Before the contest every trainer practises
releasing his birds so that the pigeons are
familiar with the flight direction. All the
birds return unless they lose their way in a
heavy storm. Intelligent pigeons can return
to their owner seven days or even two years
The bird owner should pay attention to the
pigeons' eyes, nostrils and wings to have
birds that fly both high and well. Good
birds usually have eyes with small, round
pupils. Birds with translucent, dry eyes do
best at the hot summer festival, and those
with wet eyes are best for the dry autumn
contest. Birds with small nostrils are
better than those with big ones because they
can withstand windy conditions and fly
higher. Large wings, short tails and narrow
shoulders also enable birds to be strong,
Releasing pigeons is considered a refined
form of entertainment. As a traditional
saying goes, "Men enjoy many kinds of games,
but nothing is as pleasurable as releasing
“Human chess” (co nguoi) is a popular game at village and temple festival. The game follows the general rules of Chinese chess. The concept is recognizably similar to Western chess, but with a different-sized board and different pieces, including cannons and guards, each of them marked with a distinct Chinese character.
“Human chess” (co nguoi) is a popular game
at village and temple festival. The game
follows the general rules of Chinese chess.
The concept is recognizably similar to
Western chess, but with a different-sized
board and different pieces, including
cannons and guards, each of them marked with
a distinct Chinese character.
In human chess, however, the pieces are all
people: 32 people in all. One side consists
of 16 boys and the other of 16 girls. Each
team wears a different colour.
The chessboard is marked by paint on flat
ground. Village festivals usually use the
yard in front of a communal house or pagoda
or a nearby field. Organisers select players
plus a referee well in advance. All should
be children of families with a good
reputation. The referee and the two generals
should come from wealthier families so they
can treat their players to food. As the
selection finishes, the referee convenes the
32 people, describes the costumes, and tells
each person how to move as a chess piece.
Players may sit on chairs and wear hats if
it is sunny. They either wear boards with
the Chinese names of their pieces or carry
sign poles with the characters. The generals
wear traditional costumes. The two
contestants who direct the pieces have their
own seats outside the board.
In contrast to some other games practiced at
festivals, human chess is known for its
quietude and delicacy.
Battle of the Chickens (choi ga)
Cock fighting, a long-standing form of popular entertainment, is organised during traditional festivals throughout Vietnam.
Battle of the Chickens (choi ga)
Cock fighting, a long-standing form of
popular entertainment, is organised during
traditional festivals throughout Vietnam.
Raising roosters for cockfighting requires
heavy investments in time and labour.
Professional trainers choose young chickens
carefully, individually preparing their food
and drink, bathing them, separating them
from hens, and training them in fighting
positions. A fighting cock must be so
acquainted with its owner that it will allow
only the owner to hold him. Fighting cocks,
which come from three main species, are
colloquially called "sacred chickens" or
"combat roosters". Black roosters with a red
comb and a long neck are full of stamina and
will fight to the bitter end. White roosters
with ivory-coloured feet and round yellow
eyes are hot-tempered and perform "lightning
battles". Also popular are "five-coloured
cocks" coated with black, yellow, brown, red
and blackish blue feathers. They fight with
flexibility and often run away if they lose.
The owners prepare a 1.5m-wide ring walled
by a 20cm-high bamboo screen. Spectators
stand outside the screen. Only the owners of
the fighting cocks are allowed to enter the
area to care for their animals. A rooster
loses if it leaves the ring twice and does
Before a cockfight begins, owners agree on
the terms among themselves. They compare the
size, weight and combat achievements of
their roosters. If one rooster has longer
spurs, its rival is allowed to wear
artificial spurs. After the discussion and
agreement, the owners bring their birds into
the ring. The cocks are kept in two separate
halves of the ring until a signal is given
to start the fight. Cocks usually attempt
some trial feints to gauge their
competitor's reactions before giving mortal
thrashings: a double kick against the
rival's body, a cut to the neck using spurs,
or pecking out the rival's eyes.
The fight continues until one bird is
defeated. Contestants time the rounds by
burning an incense slick or draining water
can with a hole in it.
Vietnamese cockfights have two forms of
compensation. In one version, the loser pays
an agreed-upon sum lo the winner; in the
other, the loser forfeits both money and the
Nu Na Nu Nong
This is a girls’ chanting game. Several girls sit side by side with their legs stretched out. The head of the game recites a song; at each word, she uses her hand to touch another girl’s leg or foot.
Nu Na Nu Nong
This is a girls’ chanting game. Several
girls sit side by side with their legs
stretched out. The head of the game recites
a song; at each word, she uses her hand to
touch another girl’s leg or foot.
There are several variations of the song,
all of which start with the alliterative
nonsense phrase nu na nu nong. One example
goes as follows:
Nu na nu nong
Danh trong phat co (Beat the drums and
raises the flags)
Mo hoi thi dua (Open the festival to
Chan ai sach se (The ones whose feet are
Got do hong hao (Their heels are pink)
Khong ban ti nao (And have no dirt)
Duoc vao danh trong (Are allowed to beat the
As she sings the last word, the girl whose
leg is hit must withdraw it. Normally, the
leader recites the song slowly as it is
about to end, so that the other girls feel
anxious about whose leg will be hit. The
game resumes until every child has withdrawn
her legs. The girl who withdraws both her
legs first wins and the last one with legs
in the game loses.
Bamboo Swings (Danh Du)
Swings have been traditional game at village festivals for centuries. A Complete History of Dai Viet (Dai Viet su ky toan thu) states: "In the Ly Dynasty, in spring or the first lunar month, boys and girls get together and play this game".
Bamboo Swings (Danh Du)
Swings have been traditional game at village
festivals for centuries. A Complete History
of Dai Viet (Dai Viet su ky toan thu)
states: "In the Ly Dynasty, in spring or the
first lunar month, boys and girls get
together and play this game".
The game is most popular in the northern
delta, especially along the banks of the
Duong River in Bac Ninh Province. Residents
in many villages around Hanoi, including the
ancient capital of Co Loa, also set up
swings during spring festivals.
Villagers usually build their swings on a
dry, harvested rice paddy near a communal
house. The area should be large enough for
spectators to stand around all four sides.
Swings and the associated games come in many
kinds and variations. However, the most
common Vietnamese swings involve a wooden
platform, not a seat. One or two people
stand on the platform and swing themselves
high in the air, even tens of meters, until
their bodies are almost parallel to the
ground. Their goal is a prize hanging from
the top of the swing's frame.
The frame of the swing is constructed of
solid bamboo. The handles are also made of
bamboo that is straight, without knots and
wide enough for a person's palm. The swing's
platform must be close enough to the ground
that players can jump on easily.
To ensure safety, builders must choose the
right bamboo, for young bamboo is weak,
while old bamboo is less elastic and tends
to break. They seal their completed frame
with paper and invite an elderly villager to
check its quality. If the frame meets his
standards, he will remove the seal. With
that, someone beats a drum. He clasps both
hands in front of his chest and bows to his
fellow villagers. Then, on behalf of the
community, he opens the game.
Players should dress smartly and neatly.
Boys wear red purse-belts and girls greenish
pulse-belts over traditional four-panel
dresses (tu than) and then headscarves so
their hair won't come loose. Often a boy and
girl will swing together.
First, the couple steps onto the swing
platform and stands face to face. Then they
press their feet against platform floor and
bend their knees. Gradually, the swing
begins to move like a pendulum. The harder
they press, the higher the swing flies, as
described in a poem by the 19th-century
woman poet Ho Xuan Huong:
The boy bends his knees
The girl bends her back
The four red panels of her skirt fly in the
Two parallel lines of stretched legs.
At the height or their swinging, the two
almost lie on top of one another. The crowd
cheers. As soon as the couple reaches the
highest point, one of the two will stretch
out a hand and try to snatch the prize. This
is the most difficult part of the game, for
it requires that both players be calm,
clever and acts as a team. They lose if they
drop the prize. The crowd is just as
anxious, hoping the couple manages to secure
the prize as a reward for their long days of
This type of swinging is not for those who
The Pull of Natural Forces (keo co)
Villagers across Vietnam play various forms of tug of war (keo co). The game is always symbolically linked to the seasons, weather and crops. Tug of war is a popular game for both children and adults since it requires no particular skill or training.
The Pull of Natural Forces (keo co)
Villagers across Vietnam play various forms
of tug of war (keo co). The game is always
symbolically linked to the seasons, weather
and crops. Tug of war is a popular game for
both children and adults since it requires
no particular skill or training.
However, the moment a competition begins,
the viewers' noisy acclaim inspires the
participants, increasing their zest to win.
Players divide into two teams and stand face
to face along a bamboo cord. A red piece of
cloth marks the middle of the cord, which is
above a line drawn with lime in the dirt.
After a signal from the referee, players tug
the cord as hard as possible to pull the red
cloth towards their side. Eventually one
team loses strength and let’s go of the
cord; the audience cheers the other team as
Tug of war has become a sport, but in many
regions it still reflects traditional
Vietnamese beliefs. For example, in Tich Son
Village, Vinh Phuc Province, tug of war fur
men only is held on the third day of the
first lunar month after Tet. Organizers
arrange the cord in an east-west direction,
evoking the trajectory of the sun. Older men
stand to the east, younger men to the west.
After three matches, the team that compels
the other group to take three steps forward
is the winner. According to traditional
belief, if the eastern (older) team wins,
the villagers will have bumper crops
throughout the year.
Therefore, the western team often
"volunteers" to lose. Spectators cheer their
favorite team from outside a circle drawn
with lime. They toss into the air and pass
around over their shoulders any villager-old
or young-who steps over the line, whether
inadvertently or from pushing.
In Huu Chap Village, Bac Ninh Province, the
tug of war takes place on the fourth day of
Tet. Players form two teams of unmarried
boys and girls. The boys represent the
duong force (yang) and the dry season,
while the girls represent am (yin)
and the rainy season. Although the boys are
frequently stronger than the girls, the
girls often "win" the tug of war so that the
rainy season can outdo the dry season and
the harvests that year will be plentiful.
The ritual meaning of the tug of war is even
clearer among the Thai ethnic minority.
Not long ago, Thai people in Con Cuong
District, Nghe An Province still performed a
ritual called "pulling the dragon's tail" as
part of a prayer for rain. Thai people
believe that drought occurs because the
dragon has overslept or is trapped
underground. Thus, they must extract the
dragon by pulling its tail.
To this end, villagers bury rice plants and
an areca branch, which represents the
dragon's tail, in a 50-deep hole. Then they
place a hollow section of the areca branch
over a neighboring hole to serve as a drum.
Since the dragon is a female, the person
officiating is a woman and should be a widow
as the bearer of the rice plant's soul. The
moment surrounding villagers beat the drum,
which symbolises thunder, the woman tugs on
an areca leaf to make the rice grow. One
after another, young girls come to help her,
forming a long row. Finally, they liberate
the areca branch from the earth for an omen
of good harvest.
The Art of Traditional Wrestling
On a beautiful spring day in Nam Dinh, a light breeze blows over the multicoloured traditional flags planted at the four corners of the arena where the finalists of the National Wrestling Championship are about to compete.
The Art of Traditional Wrestling
On a beautiful spring day in Nam Dinh, a
light breeze blows over the multicoloured
traditional flags planted at the four
corners of the arena where the finalists of
the National Wrestling Championship are
about to compete.
Were it not for the dry rhythm of the drum
and the overheated ambiance appropriate for
sporting events, the surroundings might be a
set for an artistic performance, insofar as
Vietnamese traditional wrestling (vat)
resembles dancing. Indeed, the most
impressive aspects of this extremely popular
sport are its picturesque and
Wrestlers waiting for the fights to begin
sit around a "carpet." There is no ring or
rope. Using lime, villagers have drawn a
square of around 10m on each side. The
audience sits around the square, watching
with anticipation as wrestlers rub their
sweaty hands on the earth, all the while
watching their opponents out of the comers
of their eyes.
"Toong! Toong! Toong!" The drum
calls two competitors to the fight. Like all
traditional Vietnamese sports, a drum, a
gong or sometimes both accompany wrestling.
The drum adds rhythm and stimulates the
athletes. A speaker announces the
competitors, who stand up and step forward
to the middle of the "carpet." They are
barebacked and wear red shorts with a silk
belt around their waist, red for one
contestant and yellow for the other.
They dance with light footsteps recalling
those of birds. Their arms make supple and
undulating movements, displaying their
Then go the warm-up stage, a spectacle full
of panache and rich in colour. Normally,
this lasts two minutes while the drums
continue beating. Although the performances
vary according to schools of martial arts,
ail warm-up dances must match the drum's
rhythm. Once the wrestlers have finished
their warm-up, the principal referee
introduces the wrestlers by raising their
arms as in boxing. Then the wrestlers turn
away, facing opposite sides of the arena.
The drum resumes with well-spaced rolls. The
two adversaries turn, face to face, and
shake hands. Then, with hands on their hips,
they stare at each in defiance. As the drum
gives a dry beat, they turn and step away
from each other. They take further steps as
the drum continues, this time at a greater
and greater speed. With this, the "artistic"
part of the match ends. There are no gifts
once the fight officially begins. The
wrestlers turn around. They bend their backs
and, lowering their knees until they almost
crouch, extend their arms. Eyeing one
another, they advance toward each other as
if gliding, preserving their equilibrium for
the first strike.
The beating of the drum regulates the fight.
The rhythm accelerates as soon as one of the
adversaries initiates a hold. It returns to
normal once danger has passed, as if the
drum wants to let the wrestlers recover
their breath and preserve their guard. When
a wrestler falls, the rhythm accelerates,
becoming more and more pressing. A finishing
stroke of the drum puts an end to the combat
when the loser's shoulders touch the ground.
The winner and loser stand up, applauded by
a prolonged drum roll.
Each wrestler has his own holds, passed down
by his coach, who is the only person who
knows these secrets. The winner is the
wrestler who turns his adversary with his
"face to the sky" and forces his shoulders
to touch the earth. Under modem regulations,
a match is composed of three four-minute
rounds. But traditional matches often lasted
for hours, since the rules did not allow a
Vietnamese Rugby or Vat Cu
The rhythmic sound of a drum echoes for kilometers-vibrating, pressing, increasing in urgency. Any spectators arriving late from neighbouring villages hasten along their way. The crowd grows larger and larger around a flat piece of empty space in front of the village pagoda.
Vietnamese Rugby or Vat Cu
The rhythmic sound of a drum echoes for
kilometers-vibrating, pressing, increasing
in urgency. Any spectators arriving late
from neighbouring villages hasten along
their way. The crowd grows larger and larger
around a flat piece of empty space in front
of the village pagoda.
Suddenly, the drum stops. Then it resumes,
but this time in three long series and
accompanied by the metallic sound of a gong.
Three respectable old men in long blue robes
with puffed sleeves appear. The man in the
middle holds a multi-coloured flag; the man
on the right, a small drum; and the man on
the left, a gong. These are the referees.
Behind them come two teams of twenty players
each. These young, well-built men are
barebacked, with colourful loincloths and
red or yellow belts designating their team.
The captain of one team holds a tray with a
ball on it, covered with a pink cloth.
The referees and players stop once they
reach the centre of the playing area. The
team leader places the tray on the ground,
lifts the pink cloth and delicately places
the "ball" in a hole dug in the middle of
the playing field. The ball (cu) is made
from the root of a banana tree and is twice
as large as a football. It weighs four to
Organisers have already dug two goals-holes
from 50cm to 60cm deep-at the two ends of
the field. During the game, players must
catch the ball, as in rugby, and throw it
into the goal. Once a player has caught the
ball, he may run or pass it to a team-mate.
But unlike rugby or soccer, the ball may not
touch the players' feet. A single goal wins
This particular match is about to start: The
two teams move to the middle of the field.
There are no fixed positions. The drum and
the gong strike their last notes. With this,
a member of the red team passes the ball to
a team-mate, who pushes past one, two then
three opponents. But a fourth player
relentlessly blocks him and grabs the ball.
The "yellow" team runs, heading for its
goal. The yellows soon regroup to protect
the ball. Like fencers en graded, with bent
knees and arms stretching forward, they are
ready to deal with any opponents who want to
But the "reds" reorganise and
counter-attack. Around ten red players worm
themselves into the yellows' defending
circle. Then go a collective struggle to
possess the ball. Within several seconds,
the ball passes back to the reds. They are
now in the offensive position and make a
lightning attack towards their goal. But
they fail. A "yellow" runs even faster and
prevents the score. The game continues
amidst struggling arms and legs. As the
competition grows heated, someone suddenly
throws the ball dozens of steps away from
the players. A red retrieves the ball and,
before any of the yellows can react, races
towards his goal. After some quick passing,
in the blink of an eye, the ball lies in the
reds' goal. Cries, applause, and the sound
of the drum and gong bring the players back
to reality: The reds have won.
This game requires speed, skill, strength
and daring. General Pham Ngu Lao, the "right
arm" of Vietnam's great general Tran Hung
Dao, invented vat cu (literally,
"ball wrestling") in the 13th
century to train his soldiers to defeat the
Mongol invaders. Like many uniquely
Vietnamese sports, vat cu almost
disappeared during the French occupation.
However, the National Sports Committee has
studied the game's original rules and is
trying to revive the game. Without doubt,
vat cu has returned to become one
of the most popular games at Lunar New Year
Blind Man’s Buff
Children between ages six and 15 enjoy playing bit mat bat de (“catching a goat while blindfolded”). One participant volunteers to play the “goat” and another, the “goat catcher”. Other players form a circle around the players.
Blind Man’s Buff
Children between ages six and 15 enjoy
playing bit mat bat de (“catching a goat
while blindfolded”). One participant
volunteers to play the “goat” and another,
the “goat catcher”. Other players form a
circle around the players.
The goat and goat catcher are blindfolded
with handkerchiefs. The game begins when the
catcher yells, “Done!” The goat can move
wherever he or she likes but must
occasionally bleat. The catcher listens for
the bleats and grapples to find the goat. In
turn, the goat must move quietly to avoid
being trapped. Since both players are
blindfolded, the goat and goat catcher must
use both their ears and wits to win.
The other players distract the goat and goat
catcher to make them turn in the wrong
direction. This creates hilarious moments
and prolongs the game. A new round begins
once the goat has been caught. Other players
who want to join the game may ask to play
the goat or goat catcher.
Chanting While Sawing Wood (keo cua lua xe)
Both boys and girls play the game of keo cua lua xe. Two children sit opposite each other, holding each other’s hands tightly. While reciting a song, they push and pull each other’s arms and pretend as if they are sawing a piece of wood between them.
Chanting While Sawing Wood (keo cua lua xe)
Both boys and girls play the game of keo cua
lua xe. Two children sit opposite each
other, holding each other’s hands tightly.
While reciting a song, they push and pull
each other’s arms and pretend as if they are
sawing a piece of wood between them.
They say each word as they push or pull. The
song goes as follows:
Keo cua lua xe (Keo cua means “to ‘pull’ a
saw”; lua xe means “to adjust the saw to the
Ong tho nao khoe (The worker who is
Ve an com vua (Returns to eat the
Ong tho nao thua (The worker who
cannot catch up)
Ve bu ti me (Returns to suck his
Or, an alternate version:
Keo cua lua xe
Lam it an nhieu (Work a little, eat
Nam dau ngu day (Sleep wherever we
No lay mat cua (They steal the saw)
Lay gi ma keo (How will we saw?)
Vieing for Ball
The game of vieing for ball is a ritual in some festivals or a custom in others. Its names and rules can be different from locality to locality. It is an activity wishing for bumper crops of the peasants.
Vieing for Ball
The game of vieing for ball is a ritual in
some festivals or a custom in others. Its
names and rules can be different from
locality to locality. It is an activity
wishing for bumper crops of the peasants.
A round wooden ball, sometimes a coconut or
grapefruit must undergo the ritual of
presenting to god before being taken into
In the courtyard of the village communal
house, two groups of youth wearing
loincloths compete enthusiastically to vie
for the ball to throw it at either a hole in
the east or in the west amidst the
boisterous sound of drums and cry of the
audience. The winner is the side with higher
number of times of throwing the ball at the
other side’s hole.
In some places the hole is dug in the middle
of the courtyard of the communal house. Some
other localities require that the ball be
thrown at a bottomless basket hung in a
tree. Still some others set the rule that
whichever side that can throw the ball at
its own hole becomes the winner.
This game develops in Hoa Lu, Tam Ðiêp (Ninh Bình). A word-arrangement team includes 32 boys under 15 years old. They wear blue trousers, leggings, and white shirts with red hem.
This game develops in Hoa Lu, Tam Ðiêp (Ninh
Bình). A word-arrangement team includes 32
boys under 15 years old. They wear blue
trousers, leggings, and white shirts with
They hold sticks to which is attached
colourful tassels. They are often divided
into two lines with two leaders (tong co
tien and tong co hau) standing at
either end of each line. These leaders
usually put on white trousers with
three-knotted cloth belt, gauze tunics,
turbans, holding square flags.
In the game, tong co tien and tong co
hau guide their lines to arrange
different words in accordance with rounds of
drum by tieu canh. The two leaders
direct their line to run spirally with
complicated acts to arrange such words as
Thai Binh (Great Peace), Thien
Phuc (Heaven Luck), or Quoc thai
dan an (Peaceful country, prosperous
From time immemorial, boat racing has appeared in Vietnam. It is not only a competition but also a ritual in honour of the Water God, stemming from the act of praying for water among agricluture-based people.
From time immemorial, boat racing has
appeared in Vietnam. It is not only a
competition but also a ritual in honour of
the Water God, stemming from the act of
praying for water among agricluture-based
In some places there are only two boats in
competition (in Ðào Xá, Phú Tho), a male
boat with the figure of a bird at its head
and a female one decorating with a figure of
a fish. These two figures symbolize the
yin-yang harmony (bird: in the sky – yang,
fish: in the water – yin). The movements of
the ores waken up the Water God. This kind
of boat racing only takes place at night and
ends at the crack of dawn. For fishermen
boat racing conveys their wishes for bumper
fish catches. In other places, boat racing
is held to honour general who were good at
At present boat racing constitutes an
important part in the program of many
festivals from the North to the South,
especially the localities with rivers and
lakes or near the sea. It has gone beyond a
belief activity to become a fascinating
sport event, which attracts a large number
of participants. As such, boat racing has
become an event to compete and display