Hong Phong Water Puppetry Troupe

(VOVworld)- Water puppetry is a typical artistic genre in the Red River Delta. It is closely associated with Vietnam’s wet rice civilization. Bo Duong village, Hong Phong commune, Hai Duong province is one of the cradles that nurture this folk art.
Hong Phong Water Puppetry Troupe - ảnh 1

Elders in Bo Duong village say it’s hard to tell when water puppetry first appeared. But carvings on the Bo Duong communal house which feature Uncle Teu, fairy dances, martial art fighting, and squirrel climbing tree – the characters in water puppetry- give a clue that this folk art appeared in the 17th century. In front of the communal house is a small pond where water puppetry performances take place. Local carpenters created different puppets with different expressions. Pham Van Tong, head of the Water Puppetry Troupe in Hong Phong commune says that after several years of fading out due to wars and economic difficulties, water puppetry in the village revived in 1989. Mr. Tong says: “During the years of ups and downs in our history, our water puppet troupe was founded and dissolved. But more than 30 years ago, local people managed to restore it despite local poor infrastructure and lack of money. We have since received support from the Communal People’s Committee and volunteers to preserve and promote water puppetry. Local artisans make the puppets and restore the old stories and tales to enliven the genre”.

Hong Phong Water Puppetry Troupe - ảnh 2

In recent years, Hai Duong authorities and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism have invested in equipment and upgraded the communal house and the stage for water puppet performances. The Japan International Cooperation Agency supported Hong Phong commune to build a Water Puppet Display House to further promote this art form. Mr. Tong again: “When it was founded, our troupe had 30 members. The oldest one was 75 years old. Now, we have 16 members. Older members are the consultants. In recent years, our troupe has received support from many Vietnamese and international organizations”.

Hong Phong Water Puppetry Troupe - ảnh 3

While puppets are handled by bamboo poles elsewhere, here in Hong Phong, they are handled by string. It’s not easy to arrange the string system to handle the puppets. Nguyen Van Truong is Deputy Head of the troupe: Most of the puppets are made by elders in the village and sophisticated puppets are made by skilful artisans. We are very proud that we are not professional artists but we can do those things. In the daytime, we are farmers. But when night falls, we become water puppeteers. Visitors to our village like our performances”.

Hong Phong Water Puppetry Troupe - ảnh 4

At the International Water Puppetry Festival in Hanoi in 1994, the Hong Phong Water Puppet Troupe won the Gold medal with a performance called “Ha Hong Chau drum beats”. After the festival, Hong Phong puppeteers took part in the Hue Festival 2004 and other cultural events. The troupe has between 25 and 30 performances each month serving both Vietnamese and foreign tourists. Vu Van Doan is a puppeteer in Hong Phong:“We have restored folk performances and developed new stories. We worked very hard, day and night to restore the folk art. We make the puppets ourselves. We want to preserve and promote the heritage of our predecessors”.

Water puppetry has become a new attraction in Hong Phong commune, Hai Duong. In addition to organizing performances, senior artists in Hong Phong have also organized classes to teach water puppetry to the younger generation in the hope of preserving this folk art form.

Vinh Phong