Vietnamese Village Culture, A Deeper Look
Village culture is an important component taking part in creating Viet Nam cultural identity.
Being a typical agricultural country, people's lives must depend much on natural conditions, thus, for existence and development, owners of Viet Nam villages that are peasants in the majority must rely on and link to each other’s. That's why, communal character has been regarded as the first cultural characteristic of Viet Nam villages. This has been formed through close organization with many different rules.
First of all is the organization basing on bloodline comprising family . Family is the basis unit including people who are of bloodline relationship. Such families form kin. In Vietnamese thought, kin is sometimes more important than family. Concepts involving to kin such as head of a clan, patriarch, genealogy, temple of fore father; ancestral anniversary, birthday feast,... are respected much.
From past time till now, village people have liked to live in big families. The family that is of three or four generations living together, its leader feels proud of. Compassion and assistance among people are the representation of kin's strength. In a kin, everybody is responsible for protecting and assisting each other’s both material and spirit, guiding each others to promote their position in society.
The basis of bloodline relationship is hierarchy. The direct hierarchy system of Vietnamese people consists of nine generations from forefather, great grandfather, grandfather, father, I, child grandchild, great grandchild, post child. This system is seldom met in the world. This creates the distinctiveness for Viet Nam culture one hand, the other hand it also forms few negative characters of rural persons. They are patriarchal behavior and private.
Second is the organization basing on resident areas to be hamlets and villages. This is originated from agricultural environment. Because the wet rice cultivation requests a big labor force, Vietnamese peasants not only bear much but also assist to each others. In order to cope with the social environment such as robbing... it is necessary to cooperate to make effect. Vietnamese people cannot live without relatives as well as without neighbors. The organization basing on habitat creates democracy and equality between man and man. This is regarded to be primary democratic form - village democracy. However, its flip side is dependent character and jealousy.
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Countryside is also organized into guilds according to interests and vocations. In order to link persons who have the same vocation, guilds are set up such as pottery guild making ceramics, fishing guild, cloth guild weaving cloths, plaster guild doing constructional guild.... As for persons of same hobbies or classes, there are associations such a association of scholars for civil mandarin in a village, literacy coterie links Confucian scholars in a village who are not mandarins martial coterie links persons who follow art of fighting, old men take part in gentlemen association, old women participate in lady guild, "To torn" guild (card game using a deck of 120 cards and played by five persons) chess guild, cock fighting guild....Although guild and association have some common points, the specializing character of guild is usually more deeply and its scale is often smaller. Democratic character is also a characteristic of guild and association. Thus, people in the same guild are usually responsible for help each other.
Another rural organization is according to the tradition of "Giap" - called male. The head of Giap is the overseer, next are persons called "lenh" assisting the overseer. A participant in Giap is only male. It is hereditary, the father belongs to a Giap, his son will belong to that Giap. There are three main ages in Giap. From small to 18 years old called "infant", strong young men called "male individuals", old men called "elders". Reaching to "elder" is the supreme honors to any member in Giap. The age for reaching to "elder" is often 60 but some exceptions that regulate that this age- starts from 55 or 50 depending on each village. When a person gets "elder", he will sit on the above mat and will be respected by the whole village. The rule forming this organization is "respecting old man" because elders are always rich of experiences which are extremely important and essential to works of farmers, Giap is an organization in which expresses both hierarchy and democratic character of Vietnamese people.
Beside patterns mentioned above, Viet Nam villages are as well held up to administrative unit to be hamlet and commune. Commune is another calling of village and hamlet is another name of subdivision of a village in terms of administration. One commune sometimes, may consist of few villages and a hamlet, may include some subdivisions.
In a commune, there is often of an existence of apparent discrimination between principal people and aliens. People whose origins are in village are called principal ones and people coming from other regions are called aliens. This discrimination is very sharp. While principal men are enjoyed all rights and interests, aliens are often treated without any respect,. This opposition is really of aim at restricting peasants to separate from their homes and also limiting aliens to come to live in village. Therefore, this discrimination is considered to be a means for maintaining the stability of villages.
Principal people are classified into five types. That are dignitaries (including persons who passed examinations or of grades); authorities (consisting of persons who are working for commune); elders (comprising men belonging to aged rank in Giap); male individuals (including strong boys in Giap) and infants (consisting of children). Dignitaries, authorities and the eldest in aged rank forming a section called village mandarins. This section manages three lower classes to be elder male individuals and infants. It may be said that, the administrative machinery of Viet Nam traditional villages in very orderly and formed gradually during the developing process of national culture as a historical product.
The rural organization according to many different rules at the same time has created two most basic characteristics of Viet Nam countryside to be community and autonomy.
The communal character is to unite all members in village, each person usually takes care other persons. This characteristic represents outward trend. This' communal character bears the autonomy. Each village looks like a closing small nation with its own a law system (or customs) and a "mini court". The isolation itself has made the habit of "imperial power bends to suit rural customs" and demonstrates the special democratic relation between feudal state and Vietnamese villages.
The ground of the communal house, shores, banyans trees, have been regarded as traditional symbol f community. Every village has it own communal house. This is the place at which every respects in village life focuses most. All important works of village take place here, so, the communal house is an administrative centre. It is as well the place where festivals, performances of "tuong cheo" (kinds of old art) are held..., so, it is a cultural centre. It is the place for worshipping the tutelary spirit the patron god of the whole village. The destiny of the village is determined by terrain, the communal house's aspect, so the communal house is the centre of religion. And finally, it is also the sentimental center because both persons who are living and expatriates remember the communal house with all beloved sentiment each time thinking of their villages. If the communal house is the place where male gathers mainly, shores is principally for female. They do all their housework such as washing, cleaning rice and vegetables, etc, and talking here.
By the gate of the village, there is usually a century old banyan tree with a shrine below. The banyan is the place for saints and gods to gather and for peasants to stop on the way to their fields or for passers by...
Viet Nam village autonyms has its own traditional symbol. It is bamboo. The bamboo hedge covers around the village as a firm stronghold which is inviolable.
A series of Vietnamese people's characters' strong points and weak points, especially farmers, are generated from two rooted characteristics said above.
The communalism emphasizes on the identity. Due to this, Vietnamese people are always ready to unite and help to each others, regard everybody in the community as brothers, relatives. This also creates collectiveness and harmony of Vietnamese. However, the nagative aspect brought from the identity is that the individual consciousness is abolished. Vietnamese people usually depend on collectiveness with the notion of conciliation. Another serious shortcoming is envy. These defects makes the concept of "value" in Viet Nam relative. If there is only one good thing in a goodless collectiveness, that good thing will become the bad one. If the whole collectiveness is bad, that bad becomes usual, vice versa.
Different from the communalism, the autonyms emphasizes on the differentiation. Firstly is the differentiation between this community and that community. The strong point of this is to create communal independent spirit. Each village, each collectiveness has to settle and arrange its own issues by itself. Many traditional characters such as industriousness, self - sufficiency... are originated from this independent spirit.
However, when emphasizing too much on the differentiation, a series of other characters such as privations, selfishness, partial faction or patriarchal behavior... are born from. These bad habits have become a frightening obstacle for the social development, thus, nowadays; they are criticized by Vietnamese themselves.
Character of a nation is determined by features of habitable environment and peculiarity of people's thought in that nation. The water rice agricultural environment and the dialectical thought created lunar and solar principle and ambiguous behaviors of Vietnamese. Two rooted characteristics which are contrary to each other to be the communalism and the autonyms generated both good and bad habits. They combine to each other into pairs in Vietnamese people. In the case, the whole community has to face to big difficulties or challenges which even though threaten its existence the solidarity and the collectiveness will be highly called forth. But when those difficulties no longer exist, the privations and partial faction may rise.
All cultural characteristics mentioned above mainly appear in villages of the Northern plain. In the rule of Nguyen Kings, the Southern plain was exploited. This created more new traits for Viet Nam villages. The commonest characteristic of Northern villages is not the closing autonyms; it is open attitude vice versa. Without solid bamboo hedges surrounding their homes, instead, they are usually changeable. Thus, their characters become freer. These characteristics exist not by chance. The changeability of residents is due to there their villages to find other lands which are more convenient to live. The free character is owing to stable climate, favorable natural conditions with the rare appearance of natural calamity. Open and free characters facilitate to receive easily influences from outside. However, in spite of having different features from Northern villages Southern villages still have bamboos, communal house for worshipping tutelary and have festivals. Although Northern people are free, they still are industrious and still respect the communalism. Thus, Viet Nam cultural identity has still preserved its unification.
Running along the stretch of Viet Nam, there are several villages. Each one beside of common features has its own impressive traits. It is possible to say that every village or hamlet is also of certain merits or achievements. Among them, there are some ones who are notable for their private traits and they are called traditional cultural villages.
That may be literary villages, lands of study or examination system in which, there are many people who passed examinations or take part in teaching, writing books....Even though, a village with only one well known poet lich as Tien Dien with the great poet Nguyen Du has been regarded as a village of literary tradition.
That may be martial villages, where there are several military leaders or wrestlers and also many sports and martial games. Boc village with the famous wrestling custom is a example.
That may be vocational villages with traditional handicrafts such as incrustation, woodwork, forging... A village's fame may be due to the whole village does that vocation or just some professionals but their products are esteemed in many places.
That may also market village specializing trade and" commerce. Above are four typical traditional cultural villages in Viet Nam. Right from the feudalism, the cultural value of villages was much respected. Many feudal dynasties were consciousness of bringing up nice qualities of villages. A village who has good families with virtuous persons is also considered to be a cultural village.
When the country encountered enemy at the end of the 19th century, Vietnamese people both coped with invaders and got in touch with new ideas revolution villages or resistance ones were formed and paid homage to. The combination between tradition and newness has done its share in making villages more beautiful.
In history of Viet Nam culture, village culture has developed and brought its influence into play as a substance in communities, collectiveness’s and individuals of Vietnamese, meaning in villages of Viet Nam. In order to understand manifestation of village culture, it is necessary to understand these traditional cultural villages.
Content of village culture may be researched through aspects such as social culture, spiritual culture and art culture. Each aspect has many different cultural phenomena, among them, some have become symbols of certain traditional value. Images of communal houses, banyan trees, water wells, mulberry-terraced fields call up something familiar and moving to expatriates. Genealogies, habits, customs is the treasure folk knowledge in which a lot of social and historical information is contained. Historical relics, archaeological vestiges, headstones or festivals with their rich content express significance of religion, habit literature, music, art at many respects.
All has made liveliness as well as the pride for ages of Viet Nam to their villages.
This article is written by lan nguyen from Vacation to Vietnam
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