Water puppetry is a unique art-form which bears the signature trademark of Vietnam. This long-standing art form has been around since the 11th century in the Red River Delta. With a history of 10-century, it is one of the most important traditional performing art.

The Origin

Water puppetry is created in the context of daily activities and working routine. Vietnamese culture is regarded as a culture prevailing from the water. The use of water has rooted deeply in the life of Vietnamese people, it was in the water which they cultivate harvests as well as the wealth and culture of the whole nation. Therefore, the creation of an art form which associates with water like water puppetry is inevitable. It is believed that during the break time between working sections on water paddles, farmers have created this kind of performance to entertain others. They took use of the wood around and the water and combine with traditional music to recreate traditional tales or represent their familiar daily activities in the special stage of water. Along with time, this simple art form has reached out to the larger stage and enjoyed the appreciation from bigger crowds. Water puppetry gained an irreplaceable place in the heart of village life as well as a tangible special stage exclusive only for water puppetry performance. It was called “water temple facade” or thủy đình, a stage which is set in the middle of a pond or small lake and resembles with the real temple facade of any village in Vietnam. With the upgrade of performing place, the water puppet show was also taken to the higher level. It was played in every festival or important event of the community. Ever since it has been an inseparable part of the cultural life of Vietnamese community.

Element contributed to a successful performance

Performing place The use of water is a bright production of Vietnamese’s creativity. First of all, creators knew how to take advantage of the flexibility of water to hide movement machine. Secondly, pulsating water adds a special effect for the play: it eases the stiffness of wooden textile and makes puppet’s movement lively. Finally, it perfects the realness of some particular setting, especially in the water-involved scene, for example, water battles, rivers, and lakes. All of the performance is played within the water. As mention above the water stage was temple-like thuy dinh. In front of thuy dinh is where the puppets show up, there would be a bamboo curtain which separates the behind-the-scenes area where the puppeteer do their work. The hardest job lies on the puppeteers because they take responsibility for the movement of the puppet. As you may know, movement regulates differently under the water. Moreover, they have to soak themselves in the waist-high water all along the play. Therefore, it would take a lot of love for water puppet to take on such a hard work. During the festival times, thủy đình is decorated with colorful traditional flags and large-sized fans and parasols. Music To have a well-round performance, apart from the contribution of puppeteers, the music performer also play a crucial part. The use of music helps to guide movement of puppets, energize the performer and excite audiences. Traditional musical orchestra always represents besides the pond. The instrument involved in every play is vocals, drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, đàn bầu (monochord), gongs, and bamboo flutes. The upbeat percussions and inviting sound of vocalist break the tranquil atmosphere of a rural village, purse the enthusiastic festival vibe and unconsciously indulge everyone to rush their step toward the thủy đình stage. In the past, there was even the appearance of the distinctive sound of petard firework. Moreover, it also assists the show with lighting and foggy effect on stage. The Puppet The puppet is not only the presenter and the soul of water puppetry art but also an incredible work of traditional sculpture. Every puppet is made of fig wood, a light type of wood and can float easily in the water and last under the humid condition. After carved, they are covered in a waterproof paint. The craftsmen who make these puppets are not professional sculpture artists but ordinary men who take up crafting puppet figure as the jobs to do in their free time. Therefore, the look of these puppets is simple and unaffected. The appearance feature of water puppet is that they are always bright and cheerful. The most significant character who appears in every single play is chú tễu. He was a famous traditional character whose job is to host the show, lead the story and making funny jokes to entertain the crowd. He garners the overwhelming affection becomes the soul of all shows due to his amusing appearance, hilarious characters, and funny skit.

Chú Tễu is a funny and important character of water puppetry.

Every puppet is made of two parts, the upper part, and the underwater part. The upper part is the figure of that character, whereas the under-water one is the hidden part where the movement machine is operating. Movement machine is a sophisticated creation of Vietnamese artist, it supports to perform complicated movements of puppets.

Where to see water puppet show

In the past, in every village, there will be a particular team who takes responsibility for performing water puppet show. The most famous among them are puppeteer teams from Dao Thuc Village and Thanh Village, Tế Tiêu, Tràng Sơn, Bình Phú, Thạch Xá, Nguyên Xá and Nam Chấn. Within Hanoi, there was some theatres provide water puppetry performance. The most favored among those are the Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre, where specializes in this type of art only. Besides, in every weekend in Bảo Tàng Dân Tộc Học (Museum of Ethnology), there is the delivery of water puppetry show for visitors to this museum, therefore you can combine the museum-investigating with enjoying traditional art form of Vietnam.   If you want to know more about this traditional art-form of Vietnamese people, you can consider taking this tour, where you have a chance to be fully immersed in the art of water puppetry. For more information about tours and booking, you can visit our main website here, or contact directly at info@c-vietnam.com.