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Tat Giang Festival (Festival of Dum Singing on River)
07/10/2011 - 14:40

Tat Giang Festival (Festival of Dum Singing on River)


Being formed and developed in an ancient historical land where purely Vietnamese cultures like Trang Kenh pottery, Viet Khe bronze, etc… gathered together, “dum” singing has once been inherent in everyday life of Thuy Nguyen residents and a popular cultural activity in this coastal land.

For a long time, when talking about “dum” singing, it often reminds people of the concept of gathering or “one kind of folk-songs mostly in an exchanged singing style on the occasion of spring festivals in Northern Vietnam participated by young boys and girls”. And the name “dum” singing has been associated with the toponym Thuy Nguyen - Haiphong. However, we would like to add that, such singing styles of common features can be found in many other folk singing genres. Particularly, apart from its general form, “dum” singing is also a typical style and melody of Vietnamese exchanged folk-songs. Additionally, there are only 3 place-names in Thuy Nguyen including Phuc Le commune, Pha Le commune and Lap Le commune being considered the cradle of Vietnamese “dum” singing in the Northern coastal area. According to local residents of Thuy Nguyen coastal area, “dum” singing originally took shape here about seven hundred to eight hundred years ago (under the reign of Tran dynasty in the 13th century), but until the 16th century (under the reign of Mac dynasty) when Kien Linh pagoda was built in Phuc Le, it just became popular in pagoda festivals. “In Kien Linh pagoda, there is a stele created in the 2nd year of Thuan Phuc (1563) and Binh Dan (1566) under the Mac dynasty; content carved on the stele says that Phuc Le is a sacred land of great talents; and once visited by King Le Thai To (Le Loi)”.

Being taken form in a working environment, then becoming a kind of folk-songs in festivals, “dum” singing in Phuc canton, Thuy Nguyen district has associated with unique cultural characteristics of a coastal area. In ancient society, one of popular traditions regarding to “dum” singing in this area is the veil-wearing custom of women. Until the 1960s, when coming to Phuc canton, Thuy Nguyen district, visitors still could see village girls in black veils and kerchiefs which left only two eyes uncovered when they were working or doing everyday activities. The elderly say that, formerly in Phuc canton, especially in Phuc Le, Pha Le and Lap Le communes, it was very difficult for a visitor to ask a village girl for information. Although the girl often wore a veil, she was still more discreet when meeting strangers, or even timidly hid in the rear compartment without any reply. The veil-wearing custom persisted when the girls participated in the “dum” singing festival in the village’s pagoda in springtime. In the festival, when singing started, there was no girl uncovered the veil, but conversely the veil was covered tightly. When taking part in the exchanged singing with the boys, the girls often gathered into a team of five or six and started singing. Then the boys could only hear the singing from the girls’ team but could not see any face. If a boy could see a girl’s face with luck, he would have won her love after exchanging quite a lot of songs. If the girl still kept the veil uncovered after exchanging some songs that meant the girl did not have a liking for the boy, and the boy therefore had to look for another girl to exchange singing.

Formerly in the traditional society, while “dum” singing in Phuc canton attracted visitors by its poetic and loving lyrics and melodies, the veil-wearing custom aroused curiousness and absorbed visitors. As time goes by, this ancient custom has become a unique cultural stroke. If a girl hides her face, there must be once time… she unhide it; that is the attraction toward visitors, even toward residents of other villages. When the girls uncover their faces to exchange singing with the boys, visitors cannot help being full of admiration because they all have loveable faces, white skins, ruby lips, and brilliant black eyes… Like many other kinds of folk culture and arts, “dum” singing in Phuc canton has gone through many upheavals. There was one time when “dum” singing was prohibited because of a misconception that boys and girls hold hands when singing is “depraved”. Nevertheless, “dum” singing in Phuc canton was still maintained and loved by local residents. In the second half of the 20th century, “dum” singing in Thuy Nguyen turned to descend; and currently when Thuy Nguyen district is in the process of modernization and urbanization, “dum” singing is facing with new challenges. In former rural society when science and technology was underdeveloped and mass media was limited, performances of “dum” singing were paid special attention to by local residents, especially young boys and girls because they found in this cultural exchange activity the way to send their feelings and sentiments to friends. Furthermore, through “dum” singing festivals, young boys and girls had chances to meet, make friend, then to flirt and get married. In the old times, on occasions of moonlight, boys and girls in Phuc canton often gathered on Hanh Phuc (means “Happiness”) bridge to exchange singing and “flirt each others”.

At present, “dum” singing in Thuy Nguyen is not as popular as in the traditional society. It has altered. Every kind of folk culture might alter, or even vanish. However, in fact, “dum” singing in Thuy Nguyen still exists on its own way. That proves the vitality of folk culture and arts in the coastal land of Thuy Nguyen, Haiphong./.

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