Nowadays, among the domination of modern types of entertainment, water puppet still has its own role in the life of people in Tonkin that can’t go away. That’s why in the North Vietnam tours, travelers shouldn’t miss enjoying a water puppet show in Hanoi.
What is the water puppet?
You are probably familiar with a puppet show but a little bit strange with the term “water puppet” which North Vietnam tours recommend. It can be literally understood “making puppets dance on water” or “puppet show on water” which is one of the most distinctive features in Vietnamese cultural identity.
Vietnamese water puppets history
Dating back as far as the 11th century, even it could go back further by a few hundred years, the water puppet was born right on rice paddies in the villages of the Red River Delta located in the north of Vietnam. In the past, the daily life of Vietnamese people was closely linked to the water rice civilization and rice paddies. Therefore, there are many festivals and traditions showing itself “the breath” of the agricultural culture. After the hard working time on the field, farmers could sit right on the banks of the field; they relax, come up with as well as enjoy some “little festivals” performed by real artists; who are actually simple-hearted people a few minutes ago such as singing, dancing, and especially water puppet show.
How to control
The puppets are made from wood which is available in every village, then they are lacquered and decorated as well. The shows are performed on water like pools, ponds or rice paddies. A large bamboo rod is used by puppeteers who normally stay behind the stage in order to support and control the movements of puppets.
It is believed that the shows were not originally meant just for the entertainment of the local rice farmers; but also as a way to keep the spirits amused so that their crops would be prosperous.
How a water puppet is performed?
As it is said above that the original water puppet shows were performed in actual rice paddies; moreover the simple stages were built around flooded fields. Later, to make it more convenient, some expert puppeteers performed a water puppet show on the village’s public pond; so that it could attract more audience to come on special occasions like traditional festivals, Tet holiday, Mid-Autumn, etc. Furthermore, the best North Vietnam tours such as a Hanoi city tour of Splendor of Vietnam and Cambodia 17 days tour will take you to a theatre in Hanoi, so that you can watch a show without traveling to the field.
“Thuy Dinh” – the stage
Nowadays, many things have changed but the heart of the water puppet hasn’t changed so much, only the settings and locations. Artists now commonly perform modern water puppet in a pool of water which is miniature of a pond with 4 meters square. On the water surface, people build a stage which is decorated to resemble a temple façade or called “Thuy Dinh” to hide puppeteers who stand in the waist-deep water. However, performance still occurs in traditional venues—on traditional ponds in villages where a staging area has been set up, especially on village’s traditional festivals, on portable tanks built for mobile performers besides a specialized theatre where a pool stage has been constructed.
There are up to 8 puppeteers or more in big shows standing behind a split-bamboo screen in order to control the puppets. They use long bamboo rods and string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface; so that the puppets can move smoothly on the water. When you attend a show of water puppet, you are definitely surprised at how people can bring the “soul” for lifeless puppets just by their hands.
What is the content of a typical water puppet show?
Can you guess what a water puppet represents for? One hint for you is the original water puppet shows were literally originated and held on the rice paddy.
That’s right. Water puppet shows are staged basically in the daily life of Vietnamese farmer in the past in which their life is closely engaged in a rice paddy, buffalo, plough, and farm work. Therefore, the main content of the water puppet show represents for the life of Vietnamese people that also reflects the unique folklore in Tonkin. Specifically, puppets will simulate the ordinary activities such as farm work, frogs, fox catching ducks; festivals like dragon dance, lion dance, procession, wrestling, buffalo fighting or legendary stories which have been passed down from generation to generation.
Interestingly, puppets dance on the background music accompaniment of “Cheo” – a kind of opera in the north of Vietnam; whose instruments are typically vocals, drums, cymbals, horns, bamboo flutes, and monochord. Therefore, a water puppet show is the great combination of different elements in traditional Vietnamese culture; that is one of the highlights of the North Vietnam tours.
Puppets. Who are they?
Firstly, the puppets are made from fig wood which is a light wood floating on the water surface. It will be carved and chiseled in its own stylized feature, then sharpened, polished and decorated with many different colors to make the character closer for each character. The shape of the puppet is usually funny, humorous and highly symbolic. However, a puppet can be weighed up to 15kg. Here is the most typical in a water puppet show:
TEU is considered as a representative of the farmer in Tonkin. Based on the shape of the character, Uncle Teu is about 7, 8 years old with a full body, pink and white skin and always happy. Mr. Teu often wears loincloths, exposing his chest and belly. In order to make the audience laugh, Uncle Teu waves and swing his head upside down. Mr. Teu was a bold character, always mocking. Teu is the launcher, the commentator, the narrator, and the one who reprimands corrupt mandarins in many plays.
Where you can find the water puppet shows in Hanoi?
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre:
Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang street, Hoan Kiem
This theatre is located near Hoan Kiem Lake so it is easy for you to access this prestigious address. Before you come, remember to check the schedule of shows in advance and choose the best one for you.
You can check the schedule here: thanglongwaterpuppet.org
Lotus Water Puppet
Address: 16 Le Thai To street, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi
More detail here: bongsenwaterpuppet.com
Vietnam Museum of Ethnology
Address: Nguyen Van Huyen street, Quan Hoa, Cau Giay District
You not only attend a water puppet show but also have a great chance to discover the fabulous collection relating to Vietnam’s ethnic minorities features.
Today, Vietnam water puppets have been performed in many countries around the world. From 1984 up to now, the water puppet show has been performed in the Netherlands, Australia, America, Japan, etc. Many foreign newspapers have highly appreciated the art of water puppetry, putting it in the line of the most important forms of puppet theater in the world. Therefore, don’t forget to enjoy a water puppet show in Hanoi city tour while you are on Vietnam Cultural Highlights 14 days.
Le Huu Dan – Travel Lover