Villages are the most specific feature of Vietnam culture. Vietnamese culture has involved on the basis of the rice culture. Thus, the lifestyle of the Vietnamese is closely related to the village and native land. Over the centuries, the Vietnamese nation has taken shape through the spread of villages ( rural communes), politico-socio-economic groupings which have united the people in continuous combat against nature and foreign invaders.
A staunch feeling of communality blinds men together within the family, the village, and the state, which is indeed an ensemble of villages. This has allowed a population living on the cultivation of wet rice to build and maintain large water conservation works and to resist the invasion of powerful foes, such as the Mongol armies in the 13th century. Such resistance has always been based on the thick network of villages.
Let’s discover more about Viet’s village through Huu Ngoc’s Wandering through Vietnamese Culture - “one of the golden daffodils”
1. Basic description of Viet village
1.1. A wonderful landscape
In an English version of “Wandering through Vietnamese culture, Huu Ngoc translated as follows:
“My village is surrounded by a bamboo hedge which hides its houses from view. One enters it in through a brick gate. Most houses are thatch huts. Each house, encircled by a bamboo hedge, has a courtyard, a garden and in many cases a pond. In the garden, there grow vegetables, sweet potato, and fruit trees. Besides a little road crossing the village there are only narrow lanes. For some time now, they have been paved with bricks, which have made them cleaner. Formerly, whenever it rained, it was very unpleasant to use them because one had to walk in the mud.” (My village - “ Quoc Van giao khoa thu”).
The bamboo hedge, in some cases reinforced by an earth embankment and a moat, turns the small rural community into a green islet in the middle of a sea of rice fields. It protects the villagers against bandits as well as typhoons, and supplies materials for the repair or construction of temples, bridges, markets and other public works. It usually has four gates (north, south, east and west), sometimes fewer, which are closed at nightfall by guards. Before the main entrance, banian or ceiba trees cast refreshing shade where farmers returning from the fields or travelers can rest while drinking a cup of tea at a stall nestled among them.
Topographically, in the delta of North Vietnam, there are four types of villages, including a riparian village, a lowland village, an upland village and a coastal village. The riparian village generally stretches behinds the dyke, which serves also as a road, on a higher level than the rice fields around them. It is often submerged by flood waters, especially if it is located between the river and the dyke. The village in the swampy lowlands extends between the major stream and its effluence, is built on raised ground for in the flood season the fields are under water. The village in the uplands is built on a hill slope near a river or forest stream. Here the population is sparse, the land not very fertile. The coastal village sits on or among sand dunes. The sandy land had been turned into arable land. The dense population owns relatively big house with garden and orchard. Meanwhile, in the southward advance- as far as the Mekong delta in the 17th century, the Viet village had dispersed. The southern village, although born of the northern village, has, through a kind of mitosis, become different from it in many respects. They had no bamboo hedges, were not isolated from each other, and were often quite close together. Compared with northern villages, they were young communities and had a heterogeneous population, including Chinese, Cham and Khmer minorities.
1.2. Whether the traditional village should be kept or not?
Faced with the socio-moral crisis born of three decades of war, the onslaught of the Western way of life, and the adoption of a free-market economy, we mobilize-as we did in the difficult years of the struggle for independence - old national values, such as those of the traditional village.
A staunch feeling of communality blinds men together within the family, the village, and the state, which is indeed an ensemble of villages. This has allowed a population living on the cultivation of wet rice to build and maintain large water conservation works and to resist the invasion of powerful foes, such as the Mongol armies in the 13th century.
In countries where defense relies on urban citadels, the fall of fortresses is followed by military disaster. But in Vietnam, on the contrary, each village is a bastion.
The communal feeling is strengthened by numerous additional factors. The vestige of the primitive agricultural commune was an egalitarian and democrative male association, grouping men by age brackets regardless of their titles, functions or fortunes. The passage of a man from a lower to a higher class gave him greater prestige.
The village is also the repository of the nation’s spiritual and artistic traditions. Its temples are the site of spring and autumn ritual celebrations, and provide occasions for popular communion and merriment. These temples house the majority of old architectural and sculptural works.
Many villages are proud of traditional handicrafts practiced by their inhabitants from generation to generation: silk weaving, mother of pearl inlaying and wood carving, etc.
Before the 1945 revolution, the archaic character of village structure was violently criticized both by Confucian scholars converted to the idea of progress and by young Western-trained intellectuals
The 1945 revolution, the land reform of the 1950’s, agricultural cooperativization of the 1960’s, and the resistance wars subjected the traditional village to profound upheavals. At present, it is up to us to keep the lasting values of their heritage.
All traditional values have been kept for a long time, which marks a meaningful contribution for our life. Therefore, the maintenance and preservation should be enhanced an awareness of people into life.
1.3. The soul of traditional village
Let’s go to the countryside. It is known as a soul of traditional village in Vietnam. Each village has a communal house dedicated to its tutelary god, temples for the worship of spirits or saints, one or two pagodas to worship Buddha, sometimes a temple or a mound-alter for the worship of Confucius.
In spite of a very strong religious syncretism, one can more or less classify these buildings in two groups according to the endogenous or exogenous origin of the divinities they worship.
The first group concerns the temples ( đền, miếu, phủ) worshipping spirits of autochthonous origin, the veritable Vietnamese religion.
The second group of religious buildings comprises those devoted to religions imported from China and India. Confucianism and Buddhism came and were grafted on the autochthonous stock, which had been firmly rooted and remain alive today.
In a strongly hierarchic and patriarchal society, each person must accept his lot and accomplish his duty, from kings, mandarins, scholars, peasants, artisans and workers, to men and women, husband and wife, parents and children.
At the village level and on the cultural plane, how does Confucianism mangiest itself? The cult of the Confucian worship ( văn từ, văn chỉ) is there to recall the pre-eminence of the Master and his scholars.
The “dinh”, which serves as office for the temple, mayoralty and local tribunal, represents the rational Confucian order in all its strictness: ritual ceremonies to the tutelary god accredited by royal decrees; meeting with a very strict order of precedence; distribution of land taxes and labour duties; and the enforcement of customary laws sometimes very severe.
In the village, Buddhism brings solace of the heart and feelings to the rigours of the rational Confucian norm. The pagoda is a haven of peace, which calms suffering and brings comfort to many of the individual sorrows and social injustices.
Buddhism and Confucianism-the heart and head- have influenced for millennia the Vietnamese psyche, contributing to bringing it a necessary equilibrium.
2. Typical markings for Viet village:
2.1. The Communal house:
An old folksong ran like this:
“Passing before the communal house, I tip my conical palm-leaf hat
To look at it: the tiles on its roof cannot be counted
So is my love for you, who can tell how much it weighs.”
A quarter century ago, a ten year old schoolboy squatting in a bomb shelter put together a few lines of verse:
“In my village, there stands a communal house
In front is a well where the moon is mirrored
A ceiba tree nearby is silhouetted against the sky
A sandy path winds its way past its gate
Which birds and fish share among themselves
Against the light backdrop of the sky the curved tips of the roof
Look like the half-closed eye lids of a sleepy man.”
( Chu Hong Quy, Le Chant Continu, E.F.R, Paris, 1971)
The above quotations show how vivid is the presence of the communal house in the mind of the common man in Vietnam. The communal house dominates the spiritual life of the community together with the Buddhist pagoda and the Confucian temple. To these should be added the many small shrines dedicated to the multitude of spirits of the popular animistic cult tinged with Taoism.
At the communal house is worshipped the tutelary spirit. The latter could be a historical personage (a national or local hero). He can also be a mythical character (like the God of Mount Tan Vien). The major ritual sacrifice of the year is conducted in honour of the tutelary spirit in spring and autumn, or on the anniversary day of the birth or death of the god. It is the occasion of solemn ceremonies and joyous festivities lasting several days.
In any case it should be stressed that Vietnamese communal houses constitute a priceless cultural patrimony, a major museum of architecture and wooden sculpture. To be convinced of this one should visit a few among the most famous specimens: at Lo Hanh ( 1576, Bac Giang), Tay Dang( last 15th, early 16th century,Ha Tay), Tho Ha ( 16th-17th centuries, Bac Giang) and Dinh Bang ( 1736, Bac Ninh).
2.2. The rural market
The Vietnamese market relates to many Vietnamese proverbs and folk songs. Parochialism is best expressed by the proverb “A market has its regulations; a village has its customs.”
All this show how important “the rural market” is to the life of farmers, the more so in the old days when, as result of the self-sufficient character of the rural economy, each hamlet was provided with its own little market.
A hamlet market is a bigger thing. Often it is held at a large place where several roads meet, or close to river. Goods are available in greater quantity and variety, disappeared in permanent or temporary stalls.
Rural markets are held everyday but are busiest on principle days, often the second, sixth, 12th, 16th, 22th and 26th of the lunar month. The crowd is made up of mostly by housewives.
Mountain markets are veritable fairs where people of different ethnic groups will come for romance or a drinking bout.
2.3. Village’s pond and well
During a rural hygiene movement some thirty years ago farmers, especially in the northern delta, were encouraged to build double-compartment latrines and water wells.
The pond or rather pond-well, located in front of a communal house is generally converted with lotus or water-lily. Bathing and washing is prohibited: the water, held to be sacred, is used only for worship or drinking. In certain villages, the communal house pond is the scene of occasional shows of water puppetry.
In addition to this village pond, each hamlet is provided with several other common ponds. Some households even have their own ponds.
A pond is thus a reservoir to keep rain water obtained in the whole year. It is also there that people raise bindweed, a principal dish of the daily meal, as well as azolla tobe used as green manure for the fields, duckweed to feed pigs, and lotus or water-lily to grace the homestead.
On the other hands, each village has in front of its communal house, or pagoda, a scared well of which the water is coopered up as ritual offering or used in the ablution of statues of genies and Buddha or simply as a beverage very dirty clothes there. There are also some public wells in the hamlets and also family wells.
Normally, the well is a convenient place for women in the hamlet to wash their clothes, bathe themselves or just to exchange interminable gossips. There are a few exceptions such as Phu Tho Province where the fair sex, even young ones, make no qualms casting off all their clothes and plash themselves with full buckets of water under clear moonlight.
Folk songs about the well abound. Here is the lament of a girl forced to marry a man chosen by her parents:
My fate is like that drops of rain,
Some fall into a well, others in a flower garden.
Viet village is known as a cultural heritage, which has remained some cultural values for a long time. Viet village is inspired in Vietnamese people by some similar characters including a communal house, a market, a pond, a well. All things create a beautiful picture of Vietnamese land and people. Original people and Vietnamese ones in overseas have enjoyed and been proud of some similar landscapes in their minds and hearts. All things they want to keep one unique village and one unique Vietnam.