Preserving ancient ritual singing in An Mo Village

11:27 | 17/02/2018 Culture & Art

(VEN) - Hat chau van, or in secular form hat van, is a traditional folk art of northern Vietnam, which combines trance singing and dancing. Its music and poetry are combined with a variety of instruments, rhythms, pauses, and tempos. Hat van originated in the 16th century and spread quickly. The main musical instrument used in hat van performances is a moon-shaped lute. The genre is famous for its use in rituals for deity mediumship. In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the mother goddesses worship rituals, including hat van, as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

preserving ancient ritual singing in an mo village

An Mo Village in Le Loi Commune of northern Hai Duong Province’s Chi Linh District is a famous hat van village, with most of the performers being farmers.

An Mo hat van resurrection

Le Loi Commune Party Secretary Nguyen Van Phuong says An Mo is the only village in the commune that puts on hat van performances. Villagers have won awards in hat van contests and they make their living from such rituals, he says.

Pham Van Tranh, 78 years old, the artisan who resurrected hat van in An Mo, told Vietnam Economic News that An Mo hat van was famous for its use in mother goddesses worship at the Sinh and Hoa temples hundreds of years ago.

Tranh sang hat van since he was a little boy, and began spending most of his time on hat van since he left the army in 1977. After the two resistance wars (against the French and then the Americans), he says, elderly villagers had passed away and the folk singing sank into oblivion. A short time after returning to his home village, Tranh decided to study and restore the art. He travelled through different localities to locate, study and collect hat van songs.

With Trach’s strenuous efforts, hat van was gradually resurrected in An Mo. Trach taught his son and then his relatives to sing hat van. Trach has become renowned for his hat van ability and achievements, and he attracts hat van learners from regions nationwide. “There are only several old hat van melodies. Only gifted people with a good signing voice can become good hat van singers,” Trach said.

Farmer artists

Trach has so far taught hundreds of people to sing hat van, many of them fellow villagers. The village has even formed a hat van group. The head of the group, Hoang Van Khai, 39, says group members are practicing for hat van performances in the coming lunar spring. Khai said all three of his brothers are hat van singers, and his children have learned how to sing hat van, as well. “I began learning hat van from Trach when I was 15 years old, and hat van has become an integral part of my life,” Khai says.

Nguyen Van Ky, 53 years old, one of artisan Pham Van Tranh’s best students, said he and his family members perform hat van whenever they can to serve festivals, mother goodness worship rituals and hat van contests inside and outside the region. Hat van has become a passion and a priceless spiritual property of An Mo villagers, Ky said.

Policies needed

More than 200 households in An Mo have hat van singers, 30 of whom are professional singers taking part in performances throughout the country. Hat van has helped improve livelihoods of An Mo villagers. However, there are no state policies on managing and promoting hat van in An Mo. Hat van singer Hoang Van Khai said, “An Mo villagers established their own hat van group. We hope that the relevant authority have specific policies to enable the group operate in a professional way and to encourage singers to preserve the art in the long term.”

An Mo villagers say they are worried about threats to the existence and preservation of hat van, especially since their artisan Pham Van Tranh is getting older and older and having less time to teach and preserve hat van. It is so important to train successors, says hat van singer Nguyen Van Ky.

Le Loi Commune leaders share the same worry as An Mo villagers. Commune Party Secretary Nguyen Van Phuong says the commune government considers hat van important to attract visitors. The Association of Vietnamese Folklorists (AVF) recently suggested building an An Mo Village project honoring hat van preservation, but the project hasn’t been implemented due to capital shortages. “We are looking forward to policies that can help preserve hat van and encourage villagers to maintain and preserve this unique folk art in An Mo,” Phuong said.

Hoa Quynh & Quynh Nga