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Daily Helping for October 21st, 2020 – Vietnamese Water Puppets

A photo of Vietnamese water puppets in the water at the Thang Long Theatre in Hanoi.
Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

Welcome everyone! The Daily Hart has officially reached double digits! This is the daily helping #10, and I’m not going to lie. I came by this one through Google. One of the reasons why I wanted to undertake this project was to discover new forms of art from around the world. One Google search later and I landed on this video of Vietnamese water puppets from the Thang Long Theatre in Hanoi. After watching it, I have so many questions. I loved it, but still, so many questions.

First and foremost, the technician in me wants to know how this all works. Where are the puppeteers? What are the mechanics behind making these puppets move? How do the puppeteers retain control in water, a notoriously fickle environment? Second, the historian in me wants to know how this all came to be. Where did this tradition start and when? And why water? Finally, the audience member in me just wants to know what’s going on, because sadly, I do not speak Vietnamese.

Once again, thanks to the magic of Google, I now know that Vietnamese water puppets originated in 11th century. Villagers would use puppets to entertain each other when the rice fields flooded. These performances eventually evolved into festivals to celebrate the harvest. Rice is a staple of the Vietnamese diet, meaning this art form has endured over the centuries as a result. Today’s performances are usually held in a purpose built theatre, with an orchestra providing the background music.

As for the rest of my questions, I’m just going to have to wait until I can travel to Vietnam to see a performance in person. Until that happens, I better start brushing up on my Vietnamese. And by brushing up, I mean hopefully learn enough about Vietnamese folk tales to blunder through a performance. I don’t see myself becoming fluent anytime soon.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!