The ancient bibliographies in Bac Kan has been handed down from generations to generations, many of them being hundreds of years old. The documents record the traditional rites of passage, such as the ‘cap sac’ rite, which is held to declare the coming-of-age of Dao men within the community, ceremonies to pray for peace and bumper crops, and funerals.
Each ethnic group in Bac Kan has their own bibliography, which are kept in different families as one handwritten copy.
The guardians of the ancient documents are elders and patriarchs of the families in the village, who are masters of ancient languages and transcripts and experienced in traditional ceremonies.
A majority of the documents were written in Han (Chinese script) and Nom (Vietnamese ideographic script); however, the number of those who are fluent in the scripts is becoming fewer in the village as many of the guardians have grown old and passed away.
For example, there is now nobody in Vi Huong commune, Bach Thong district who can read and understand the ancient transcript engraved in the local bell.
The family of Be Dinh Giai, an old Tay ethnic man in Bann Nhi hamlet, Bang Lang commune, Cho Don district, now possesses three bibliographies, including a collection of 80 wedding poems, a collection of 100 Then folk songs for ceremonies to dispel bad luck, and Tong Tran – Cuc Hoa and Pham Tai – Ngoc Hoa folk stories, which have been preserved since 1913.
According to Giai, his family consider the books a valuable treasure, which reflect the ritual practices of Tay ethnic people, but only the elders can thoroughly understand the contents.
Many other ancient documents with a high degree of erudition written in Han and Nom scripts are being preserved by families at remote areas.
Trieu Xuan Hoa, a Dao ethnic man in Vi Huong commune, Bach Thong district, is the seventh generation of guardians of ‘Cho Shong’, a book of the Dao people’s ethical lessons.
The book teaches the moral standards and code of conduct that Dao people should be equipped with in life, from simple gestures of walking, speaking, and standing to the acts of supporting elders and children.
However, as the book was written in Nom script, few people can read it, thus youngsters in the community are less in favour of studying the book, which is now kept for display.
Trieu Quang Phuc from Quang Bach commune, Cho Don district worried that most of the men who can read and understand the ancestors’ ancient documents are becoming older, thus the collection and preservation of the documents is necessary to help younger generations learn more about the traditional rituals and practices.
Being fully aware of the situation, Bac Kan provincial People’s Committee recently invested VND250 million for the provincial library to collect and digitise the ancient documents in the locality.
With sponsorship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Fund, the provincial library has been facilitated with a server, projector, scanners, cameras, 40 computers and peripheral devices to help in taking photos, scanning and digitising the documents.
So far, the library staff members have collected 88 objects, and 64 ancient bibliographies with nearly 3,500 pages. The collected documents are of varied materials of cloth, wood, do (poonah) paper, and metal, and are transcribed in assorted languages, patterns and symbols.
According to Deputy Director of the provincial library, Mai Thi Nga, further research has been carried out on the origins, practice and development of the customs of ethnic groups in Bac Kan as well as their spiritual and cultural life.
The data is formatted and backups are regularly created with digital library software, creating a source of information and communication for future research.
The library leaders have also take measures to translate the collected documents to popularise the content of the documents among the public, helping to raise their awareness of the treasured tangible heritages of the ancestors.