Vietnamese Water Puppet Integrates with Global Culture

In 2022, for the first time, the Vietnam Puppet Theater will participate in the Vietnam - Warsaw Cultural Festival held by the Vietnamese community in Poland, delivering stellar folk performances. This is an opportunity for Vietnam to introduce its unique water puppetry to the world.

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The pride of the Vietnamese people

According to the organizers, the Vietnam – Warsaw Cultural Festival will take place on 27 August at Castle Square, at the foot of King Zygmunt’s Column in the old town of Poland’s capital. The Vietnam Puppet Theater has transported stages and props by a container in preparation for the tour.

The Vietnamese Puppet Theater troupe’s participation is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Vietnamese community to graciously invite their friends to attend, introduce their traditional culture to the Polish people, and express gratitude for the long-standing hospitality of the Polish government and people to the Vietnamese community.

Vietnamese Water Puppet Integrates with Global Culture
A scene from the act “Âm vang đồng quê” (Country Echoes) of the Vietnam Puppet Theater (Photo: KT).

The participation of the Vietnam Puppet Theater in the Vietnam – Warsaw Cultural Festival once again indicates that Vietnam’s water puppetry has been gradually integrating with the global culture, which is made possible by the sustained efforts of management agencies, puppet theaters, artisans, and overseas Vietnamese people to promote this art form through various domestic and international puppet shows and cultural festivals. This presents a golden opportunity to exchange and learn from international friends, showcase the quintessence of the country’s puppetry, and continue to affirm Vietnam’s position on the global integration journey.

In an article in February 2021, cultural researcher Hoang Tien Thang cited statistics that there had been over 600 performances of Vietnamese water puppetry in 40 different countries around the world. Water puppet performances invariably receive a favorable response from the audience and international activists and critics. It is no sheer coincidence that a whole host of international media channels have exclaimed in admiration, using flattering words like “terrific”, “marvelous”, and “incredible” when enjoying classic acts like “Múa rồng” (Dragon dance), “Đánh cáo bắt vịt” (Chasing fox away from the flock of ducks), “Câu ếch” (Catching frog), “Đánh bắt cá” (Fishing), “Tễu giáo trò” (Uncle Teu), and “Múa tiên” (Fairy dance).

Vietnamese Water Puppet Integrates with Global Culture
A scene from the act “Đánh cáo bắt vịt” (Chasing fox away from the flock of ducks) (Photo: bongsenwaterpuppet.vn).

Overcoming language barriers and winning the heart of international audiences

Originating from rural life centuries ago, water puppetry has become a unique traditional art form of Vietnam that exists nowhere else in the world, a national intangible cultural heritage, and is being submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Vietnamese Water Puppet Integrates with Global Culture
International audiences enthusiastically record a water puppet show by Thang Long Puppet Theater (Photo: Thang Long Puppet Theater).

Unlike other art forms that attract viewers through the script, language, and acting skill of actors, the appeal of water puppetry lies in the puppet’s actions, the performance technique, the script, the words, the dialogue, and the water stage.

The water puppetry stage is a water house with room for preparation and a pond ahead acting as a stage, where puppets perform their tricks. Puppets are created based on real-life rural models such as fish, frogs, buffaloes, farmers working hard in the field, or herding ducks.

According to Master Mai Hien (Faculty of Culture – Tourism, Hanoi Metropolitan University), water puppetry is one of the theatrical forms typical of Vietnamese national culture, demonstrating the wisdom, intelligence, and vivid creativity of Vietnamese people, specifically the working class from their simple lives.

“Water puppetry teaches people about the love for labor, for nature, and for their homeland, thereby, conveying the beauty of humanity and neighborliness that are imbued in the Red River Delta’s culture. It is worth mentioning here that the moral of water puppetry exists in a simple, pure, clear, and humane form, fostering the love for humanity, gravitating people towards democracy and becoming a master of life and nature”, Master Mai Hien observed.

Vietnamese Water Puppet Integrates with Global Culture
Water puppetry fosters the love for humanity, gravitates people towards democracy, and becoming a master of life and nature (Photo: longlinkwaterpuppet.vn).

Naomi Liner, a tourist from Australia, told the press after enjoying a Vietnamese water puppet show, “The show gave me insights into Vietnamese culture, including the relationship between the people and the water”.

Apparently, with its own uniqueness, water puppetry has overcome the language barrier in the process of international integration and won the heart of the international audience, especially those interested in Vietnamese indigenous culture.

Ann Phan