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Water Puppetry, Vietnam

Vietnamese water puppetry, Hanoi, Vietnam
Puppets in a Vietnamese water puppet play, Vietnam
Above: Vietnamese water puppetry, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Vietnamese water puppetry, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Puppets in a Vietnamese water puppet play, Vietnam

Most people who come to Vietnam will have the opportunity for visit one of the many Water Puppet theatres. Water Puppetry is a tradition which dates back to the 11th century and originated in the villages of the Red River Delta in the north of Vietnam. In ancient times the Vietnamese believed that spirits controlled all aspects of their lives. The local people devised the water puppetry as a way to satisfy these spirits and to entertain themselves in the flooded rice paddies. The water puppetry you see today is a variation of this ancient Asian puppet tradition.

Modern day water puppetry tends to be performed in pools of water which are waist deep and approximately 4 meters square. The surface of the water forms the stage. There are normally up to 8 puppeteers who stand behind a screen and control the puppets using long bamboo rods which run under the water. This makes it seem as though the puppets are moving along the water. The puppets tend to be made from wood and then lacquered; they often weigh up to 15kg.

A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides the background music, the orchestra generally comprises of drums, wooden bells, vocals, horns, cymbals, monochord (Dan Bau), bamboo flutes and gongs. Singers of traditional Cheo (a form of Opera from the North of the country), perform songs which tell the story being acted out.

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