Vietnam is made up of more than fifty ethnic groups, each one with its own oral traditions.
Folktales and storytelling are both still popular throughout Vietnam. But storytelling generally takes place on a smaller scale in the cities than it does in the more isolated mountain areas because large gatherings are still discouraged by the government. However, the Vietnamese government has worked with the Association of Vietnamese Folklorists to conserve as much as possible of the country’s oral tradition. Many stories have been collected and are compiled in massive volumes of Vietnamese tales and legends.
In addition to standard storytelling, each ethnic group has its own type of epic songs about mythical or legendary heroes. One type of epic singing performance is called the h’mon.
The h’mon generally takes place at night, with the audience sitting outside, listening in the darkness. The epic is recited in a mixture of spoken word and song and can take anywhere from three to twenty nights to complete. In addition to local epics, the Indian Ramayana is also known and performed in Vietnam.
The thousand-year-old tradition of ca dao is still popular in rural Vietnam. These songs and ballads, which are sung without any instrumental accompaniment, are a form of Vietnamese folk poetry that covers a wide range of subjects, from romance to children’s themes.
A unique form of Vietnamese storytelling theatre is mua roi nuoc, or water-puppet theatre. Performances of mua roi nuoc take place at the edge of a river or pond, with the audience sitting along the shore facing a large screen that stands up out of the water. The water’s surface forms the stage floor. Puppeteers stand in the water behind the screen and manipulate colourfully painted wooden puppets using rods held underwater.
The mua roi nuoc puppet characters represent everything from humans and animals to fairies and dragons, and there may be as many as fifteen different puppet characters in use at the same time. As the puppeteers perform, an accompanying ensemble plays background music.
- Jamieson, Neil L. Understanding Vietnam. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
- Nguyên, Huy Hông. Water Puppetry of Vietnam. Hanoi,Vietnam: Foreign Language Publishing House, 1986.
- Thang, Vo Van, and Jun Lawson. Vietnamese Folktales. DaNang, Vietnam: DaNang Publishing House, 2001
Storytelling: an encyclopedia of mythology and folklore – Edited by : Josepha Sherman – © 2008 by M.E. Sharpe, Inc.