Water puppetry is a special art created by traditional wet rice culture. From a folk art, water puppetry has gradually become a traditional Vietnamese art. Together with tuồng and chèo, water puppetry is one of the top-ranked national arts. Puppetry is shown in many countries, but water puppetry only can be found in Vietnam. The cream of water puppetry has been increasingly receiving the admiration of international friends and becoming a unique art of Vietnam.
Water puppetry – A unique art of the Northern region
The arrival of water puppetry crystallizes all the efforts, the creativeness and the association with wet rice agriculture of Vietnam ascendants in the North Delta.
According to various sources, water puppetry was born in the Ly dynasty (1010-1225). Over time, water puppetry has been passed down from generation to generation and considered to be the elegant delight of Vietnamese people at festivals. Today, water puppetry is a traditional folk art form that Vietnamese makes a great effort to preserve and promote.
Compared with normal puppetry, water puppetry has many other features. For example, the water surface is used as the stage; the puppet house or the water palace with the balanced structure that symbolizes the communal house of Vietnam acts as the stage for water puppet show.
Elements of a water puppetry
There are quite a few stages to make the puppets. In addition, this work requires the sophistication and the ingenuity of artisans. The material of the puppets must be the fig wood that is tough, light and soft so that the puppets can float on the water and the puppeteers can easily perform. The characters of water puppets often appear in the show include chú Tễu, a fairy, a ploughman or a fisherman.
However, the success or the failure of the water puppet show largely depends on the manipulation of the puppeteers. The skill of controlling puppets will create movements, flexible actions and looks of the puppets. After the veil, the water puppet artists have to stand in the waist-deep pool during the show to control the puppets by wire systems arranged under water.
Also, an indispensable element in the water puppet show is the sound. Previously, water puppetry was often performed in an open air such as ponds; therefore, the sound for the show should be strong to hold the rhythm and create the lively atmosphere of the show. Ethnic musical instruments that are often used for the water puppetry include drum, cymbal, wooden bell, firework and horn. The sound of water puppet show is as powerful as that of festivals, which has a strong effect on both the performers and the viewers.
As usual, the water puppet show starts with chú Tễu with a chubby body, a loincloth, and a funny face who will lead the viewers to the story. Through the puppet show, the audience will admire a colorful fantasy world. The puppets in various colors, the smiling face, will perform flexible movements on the water accompanied by lively sounds.
It can be said that water puppetry is a special art form bringing the national cultures that has been closely linked with the customs and festivals in the northern Vietnam for a long time. Moreover, water puppetry is part of the daily life of the people that plays an important role in the dissemination of knowledge, patriotism, ethics and lifestyle to every social class. Currently, water puppetry is on the list of nominees for the cultural heritages of the world.