Artisan promotes southern culture through water puppetry

When he left Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City in 2007, artisan Phung Quang Oanh took with him his puppets with a desire to introduce to South Vietnam water puppetry, which was only popular in the North.


With a strong determination to promote original cultural traits to the southern part of the country, artisan Phung Quang Oanh created water puppets and shows that are deeply imbued with the southern culture.

His puppet shows done with beautiful puppets are very popular in Ho Chi Minh City where most water puppetry troupes use the puppets made by Oanh. His well-liked puppets shows in clued floating market on Cai Rang river (a festival in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho), Bay Nui Cow Racing (a festival featuring the racing of cows of a certain breed originating from Bay Nui area in An Giang province), and Central Highlands Gong Festival.


Artisan Phung Quang Oanh.

Fig timber, the materialfor making water puppets.

Tools to make water puppetsof Phung Quang Oanh.

To make a water puppet needs skillful hands.

Oanh pays special attention to every detail of a puppet.

A puppet shouldbearcomic features, according to Oanh.

Painting, the last step of creating a puppet.

Puppets in Oanh’s workshop.

Oanh with one of his favourite puppets.

Graduating from the Sculpture Faculty of Hanoi Music and Painting College, it is not difficult for Oanh to make water puppets. But to create lively puppets bearing folklore characteristics is another story, Oanh said, stressing the puppet maker should have a profound understanding of the national culture. According to Oanh, the puppets, which are made from fig tree wood and then lacquered, should not only be good-looking but bear cultural and comic features to attract the audience.

A characterofshow “Phoenix dance”.

Characters of “Festival drums” show.

Character ofshow “Vinh quy bai to” (Returning home to pay tribute to ancestors after getting an academic honour).

A character of show “The eightfairies”.


A character of show “Catching frogs”.

Dragon heads made by Oanh.

Oanh’s puppetsare used by mostwater puppetry troupes in Ho Chi Minh City.

After over 23 years doing water puppetry, artisan Phung Quang Oanh is one of very few puppet makers in Ho Chi Minh City. With an aspiration for promoting and conserving this original art, Oanh is planning to build an establishment for shaping puppets and performing puppetry shows to help local and foreign visitors better understand this type of folklore.

Story: Son Nghia – Photos: Nguyen Luan