Vietnam Water Puppets: All About Unique Vietnamese Traditional Art

June 27, 2022 - 625 views

People from all over the world perform the Vietnam puppet show, but only skilled Vietnamese artists are capable of performing the authentic water puppets. So, if you're in Vietnam, don't miss this out-of-the-world show. The old rice civilization of Vietnam is typified by this type of folk art, which attracts not only locals but also foreign tourists. Read this article for more traditional and cultural insights into this performance: Vietnam Water Puppets Show.

Water Puppets Vietnam History

Where did water puppetry originate?

The Vietnamese Water Puppets began in the Red River Delta in the tenth century. Some of the earliest troupes may be found at Nguyen Xa commune, Dong Hung district, Thai Binh province.

The cultural traits of the inhabitants in this area are firmly embedded in water puppetry. This unique art form reportedly appeared during the 15th century, when artists who were also farmers gathered to perform and unwind after the harvest.

The evolution of water puppets

Many Red River Delta towns, including Dao Thuc, Phu Da, Dong Ca, Nguyen Xa, Dong Ngu, Nhan Hoa, and Nam Chan, still practice the ritual. Rural Vietnamese in ancient Vietnam believed ghosts ruled over all elements of their lives, from the kitchen to the rice terraces. That is why the farmers in this area created a type of entertainment and worship to appease these spirits.

Farmers who spend their days in flooded rice fields came up with the idea for water puppetry. They eventually realized that water was an excellent medium for puppetry since it not only masked the puppeteers' rod and string apparatus but also created stimulating effects such as waves and splashes.

Villages competed against each other with their puppet displays as water puppetry became more popular. As a result, puppet societies were hidden and exclusive, with an initiation process including the consumption of rooster blood.

This Vietnamese art genre has not only existed in North Vietnam so far but also developed along with the country Vietnam. Tourists can enjoy this type of art in Hanoi, Halong, Hue, Hoian, and Saigon. 

The evolution of water puppets

Water Puppetry originated from the Red River Delta, northern Vietnam

 

Cultural Context of Vietnam Puppet Show

Stories 

The performance's rural theme of the water puppet show Vietnam makes frequent references to Vietnamese folklore. It describes daily life in the rural areas and Vietnamese folktales that are passed down from one generation to the next, which emphasizes tales of the harvest, fishing, and celebrations.

Scenes of farming, fishing, festival activities like buffalo fights, and kids playing marbles and coin toss are all brought to life with water puppetry's caustic humor. Scenes incorporate national history and legends in addition to local life. While dragons breathe out smoke and shoot water spouts toward the audience, lion dogs play like puppies.

Short skits are often used to tell legends and national history. A funny element may be found in many of the skits, especially those that tell stories about everyday life.

Festivals and water puppets have a long history together. Bo Duong's inhabitants celebrate their tutelary god with a village festival on March 13 of each lunar year. In addition to opportunities for religion, the event offers villagers a chance to unwind by seeing water puppet shows, viewing fireworks displays, flying kites, and participating in cockfighting competitions. Every year, thousands of people attend the festival. Farmers and artists alike can unwind during village festivals.

Water Puppets In Bo Duong Puppetry Festival

Water Puppets In Bo Duong Puppetry Festival

Scenes

Scenes in Group

A number of independent vignettes can be performed in sequence in the form of sketches or groupings of scenes based on the contents of one main scene; the vignettes will retain their distinct identities. According to the program, a single scene can be performed alone or as part of a set of scenes. "Plowing" and "Harrowing," for example, are included in:

  • The "Four rural occupations" group of scenes (fisherman, woodcutter, plowman, and herdsman)
  • The "Five castes" group of scenes (scholar, peasant, worker, trader, and soldier)
  • The "Farming" group of scenes” (plowing, harrowing, hoeing, rice transplanting, and tending)
  • The "Fishing" group (fishing by means of fishing rods, nets, dip nets, traps). 

The puppet characters are grouped similarly; they participate in "Tending buffaloes," then "Buffalo fighting," and so on.

Farming' Group Of Scenes In A Water Puppet Show

Farming' Group Of Scenes In A Water Puppet Show

Individual Scenes 

Single scenes or fragments from Tuong and Cheo plays are frequently used to create stories. Only those excerpts are chosen that can be converted to water puppetry. These are frequently full of actions, but they avoid expressing innermost thoughts, which are beyond the puppet's ability.

The delivery of the prince and the severing of Khuong Linh Ta's head are two stories that use scenes from Tuong and Cheo plays (from the Tuong play Son Hau).

  • Tu Thuc's sighting by the fairy (from the Cheo play Tu Thuc)
  • In the Cheo drama Quan Am Thi Kinh, Thi Mau returns her baby
  • The combat at Xich Bich (from the Tuong play The Three Warring States)
  • The eight fairies dance and rowing (from the Cheo play Luu and Nguyen in the Fairyland)

The Scene Of The Procession Of King Le Loi Returning From A Victorious Battle

The Scene Of The Procession Of King Le Loi Returning From A Victorious Battle

Performance

Music

A traditional Vietnamese ensemble provides the background music. The lyrics that explain the drama being performed by the puppets are sung by Cheo (a type of opera with origins in North Vietnam). A pig-tailed bumpkin known as Teu often introduces performances of up to 18 brief scenes supported by a tiny folk orchestra. During the performance, the musicians and the puppets converse; the musicians may shout a word of encouragement or warning to a puppet in need.

After A Puppetry Performance Stage

After A Puppetry Performance Stage

The motions, the performance's pace, and the sense of immense animation were all accompanied by percussion instruments in the Vietnam puppet show. Drums (both large and little), cylindrical drums, bells made of wood and bamboo, gongs, horns, and shells are the primary traditional instruments utilized. In addition to creating their scenarios, fireworks also serve as sound effects for other scenes. Despite some Water Puppets show scenes containing songs, no original music with rhythm as the primary component has yet to exist. Traditional musical instruments provide the ambiance and setting the stage for each piece of art. According to researcher Nguyen Huy Hong, water puppetry incorporates elements of sculpture, architecture, painting, music, theater, and literature.

Traditional Instruments In A Puppetry Show

Traditional Instruments In A Puppetry Show

Vietnamese puppets

The feet of actors in Vietnamese water puppet theater have endured cold and wet conditions for more than a thousand years. A chest-deep pool of water is used as the stage for water puppet shows, which are performed there. Long bamboo rods and a string system buried beneath the water's surface are used by the puppeteers, who are seated behind a screen, to manipulate the puppets.

The wooden puppet is usually up to 15 kg in weight. The puppeteers use a big pole to support the puppet underwater and to operate it. The puppets look to be floating over the water. The puppets either come out of the murky water or enter from either side of the stage. The peasants used to amuse one another with these puppets in the past when the rice fields were flooded.

Puppets statues

Puppets' statues

 

Water Puppet Show Hanoi - A Must-see

Along with Tuong and Cheo, water puppetry is considered an art with a high position in the national theater industry of Vietnam. Born thanks to the discovery and creativity of our forefathers and associated with wet rice farming in the Northern Delta, water puppetry is a "spiritual cuisine" that brings people back to their roots, where they started. That is also why domestic and foreign tourists buy tickets to the Hanoi water puppet show.

Many tourists are excited when holding a ticket to buy water puppetry in Hanoi. Appearing, in turn, are colorful puppets moving flexibly on the water combined with unique sounds that make viewers unable to take their eyes off. The show's popular content is Vietnamese people's daily activities such as dragon dance, palanquin procession, buffalo fighting, wrestling, or excerpts from fairy tales Thach Sanh, Tam Cam, etc. You can refer to these two popular water puppet theaters of Hanoi: Thang Long water puppet theatre and Lotus water puppet theatre.

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre 

One of the best sites to experience Vietnamese water puppetry is Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, which was founded in 1969 and is situated in the center of Hanoi Old Quarter. The plays in the theater are based on historical traditions (Le Loi returns the priceless sword.), folklore about God, or the daily activities of Vietnamese farmers (farming, caring for buffalo, collecting fish, etc.). The best part of the show can be when the dragon or other figures suddenly appear from under the water, and the audience starts cheering.

The finest places to watch all the acts and examine the puppets are in the front row seats in the center of the stage, but keep in mind that you might get wet there. It is advised to purchase tickets well in advance, particularly between October and April. Fifteen minutes before the start of the show, you should be in the theater. Each water puppetry at Thang Long water puppet theatre lasts about 45 minutes.

  • Address: 57B, Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: 3:00 PM, 4:10 PM, 5:20 PM, 6:30 PM, and 8:00 PM
  • Price: [..........]

Thang Long Water Puppetry

Thang Long Water Puppetry

 

Lotus Water Puppet Theatre

To address the growing need for ethnic art that both domestic and foreign tourists love, Lotus Water Puppet Theater was established in September 2003. The Lotus Water Puppet Theater has two open fronts and is situated in the city's heart. It is a historic structure next to Hoan Kiem Lake constructed in 1918 using French architecture. Artists and musicians with extensive experience who perform with water puppets come from different craft communities nationwide. The Lotus Water Puppet Company, led by two skilled directors, will present the best aquatic poetry art in the nation. The audience will see the various artistic manifestations of the earth, water, trees, clouds, wind, and fire. Lotus Water Puppet will introduce a new breath by fusing traditional, modern, and contemporary lifestyles since it is a unique blend of art that only exists in Vietnam.

  • Address: 16 Le Thai To Street, Hang Trong Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi.
  • Opening Hours: 2:45pm; 4:00pm; 5:15 pm; and 6:30pm
  • Price: [..........]

A Scene Of Hanoi Water Puppet Show In Lotus Theatre

A Scene Of Hanoi Water Puppet Show In Lotus Theatre

 

Water Puppets Show Saigon

Water puppetry in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon water puppetry, is a unique traditional folk theatrical art form born from wet-rice culture. Saigon water puppet theatres have become a traditional art, a special creation of the Vietnamese people from art with folk elements.

Choosing to see water puppetry in Saigon is convenient when you have exploration trips in this land or, more broadly, the South tour. You don't have to go to the North just to admire this art but just spend 45-50 minutes for a play in Ho Chi Minh.

The Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

District 1 is where you can find Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. Every night, the theater hosts between 500 and 600 guests. Each performance lasts 50 minutes. Vietnamese will be used during the show, but you will be able to comprehend through the puppets' actions. Before the concert, you are also given a pamphlet in English that provides a brief synopsis of each portion or dance performance. Traditional folklore, legends, and historical narratives from over 800 years of history are performed by actors. 

  • Address: 55B Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Located in Ho Chi Minh City Labor Culture Palace, next to Tao Dan Park)
  • Opening Hours: 17:00, 18:30 ( If you go in a big group, you can book in advance to set daytime performance)
  • Price: [..........]

An artist is performing at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

An artist is performing at Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater

 

Vietnam History Museum

A small theater called the Southern Art Theatre is located inside the museum. You can purchase tickets for the water puppet show after visiting the stories and artifacts in the historical museum. Although the performance is shorter than the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre's, it provides a good overview of the art form in around 25 minutes. You do not need to worry about not knowing the language because there is not much narrative in the show. You can join with other visitors if there are less than five guests for the show.

  • Address: Nguyen Binh Khiem, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (temporarily closed)
  • Opening Hours: From Monday to Saturday: 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00
  • Price: [..........]

Teu A Narrator Of Most Vietnam Water Puppet Shows

Teu A Narrator Of Most Vietnam Water Puppet Shows

 

Other Places to see Water Puppets in Vietnam

Halong Water Puppet

Yen Duc Village

One of the Red River Delta villages, Yen Duc hamlet, is 60 kilometers from Halong Bay and 100 kilometers from Hanoi. It still maintains its traditional way of life. Farming and rice cultivation activities are central to the lives of the locals. The water puppet show in the tourist town of Yen Duc has unique elements that set it apart from the Hoang Gia International Park. The outdoor stage is flanked by rice fields, evergreen orchards, etc. Here, all of the water puppet "artists" are local farmers. There is no set time for performances. All you have to do to have your own is get in touch with the Yen Duc tourist village administration center. 

  • Address: Yen Khanh, Dong Trieu, Quang Ninh
  • Opening Hours: No fixed time
  • Price:  [..........]

The Experience Of Watching Water Puppetry In Yen Duc Village

The Experience Of Watching Water Puppetry In Yen Duc Village

 

Halong Royal International Park

In the heart of the Bai Chay tourist district, Quang Ninh province, is Royal International Park, also known as Hoang Gia International Park. Water puppet performances debuted in 2001 at Royal International Park. Thanks to its convenient location, good facilities including a seating system, sound, wonderful service, and exceptionally skilled orchestra performers, it is the most well-liked spot to watch water puppet plays in Quang Ninh. The Royal Theatre can accommodate up to 270 people during the busiest times. Each show runs for about 35 minutes. "The legend of Halong Bay" is the theater's best production. Visitors will learn more about Halong Bay after watching the performances. The dragon dance, phoenix dance, lion dance, farming, fishing, chasing the fox away from the flock of ducks, and frog fishing are some other fantastic theater performances.

  • Address: Yen Khanh, Dong Trieu, Quang Ninh
  • Opening Hours: No fixed time
  • Price:  [..........]

Moonlight Water Puppet Stage At Sun World Halong

Moonlight Water Puppet Stage At Sun World Halong

 

Hoi An Water Puppet Show

The Hoi An Theatre, a sizable open-air venue with stadium-style seating, is situated just north of Old Town. It is advised to arrive 15 minutes early, especially during the busy season. When you arrive, you can purchase the ticket at any tourist information centers in and around the Old Town. There are no assigned seats with the tickets, unlike the theater in Hanoi. Even though the performances are introduced in English, all of the show's talk is done in Vietnamese. However, you may simply follow what is happening and enter the artistic realm of Vietnam and Quang culture through movement and sound. About 45 minutes are spent on each water puppet show.

  • Address: Hoi An Theater, 548 Hai Ba Trung, Hoi An
  • Opening Hours::8h30 on Tuesdays, Fridays & Saturdays every week.
  • Price:  [..........]

Fishing Scene Hoi An Water Puppet Show

Fishing Scene Hoi An Water Puppet Show

 

Hue Water Puppet Theatre

The Co Do Hue Water Puppet Theatre in Hue, the old royal capital, has 160 seats and is conveniently located in the city's center. The theater has a permanent stage with a spacious, open environment. Even on vacations, there are three water puppet shows every day, each lasting 50 minutes. Between one and twenty guests are the required minimum. A free shuttle will be available to transport students from schools with more than 100 visitors. 

  • Address: 08 Le Loi, Hue city, Vietnam (temporarily closed)
  • Opening Hours:
    • Summer schedule: 15:30, 19:30, 21:00
    • Winter schedule: 15:30, 18:30, 20:30
  • Price:  [..........]

Bride Procession Scene At Hue Water Puppet Theatre

Bride Procession Scene At Hue Water Puppet Theatre

 

Fun facts about Water Puppet Show

  • In northern Vietnam's Red River Delta villages, water puppetry has been performed since the 11th century. The custom started when the rice fields became submerged in water, and the locals built ornate wooden puppets supported by long bamboo poles.
  • The fig wood used to create these puppets was lacquered. Puppets are controlled by puppeteers using a rod and strings while performing from behind a screen in a waist-deep pool. As a result, it appears as though the puppets are floating above the water.
  • Performing needs both immense strength and high levels of skill. The puppets can occasionally weigh up to 33 pounds!
  • Vietnamese orchestras typically accompany these performances. The performers sing and play àn bu, a single-stringed instrument only found in Vietnam, as well as drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, gongs, and bamboo flutes.
  • In Vietnamese water puppetry, ‘Chu Teu’ is the most typical figure. He is a jokester who usually starts the story or makes observations on society and politics.
  • Water puppetry is a folk art form with an estimated 1,000-year history!

Booking the water puppet is simple at the box office of each theater. The ticket might already be sold out when you purchase it. You might have to hold off until the next performance. Making reservations in advance is a good idea so you can contact BestPice Travel for more information.

BestPrice Travel hopes that by using the above Water Puppet Show information, you will be able to locate a theater where you can appreciate this style of art.

You may read Top 20 Amazing Things To Do In Vietnam for a more exciting vacation.

K.Linh

(Image source: Internet)

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