Chau Van Performance in Vietnam: Recognition of Deities and Transformation of Language Practice in the Rituals of Mother Goddess Worship among Vietnamese People at Present

Author: Vu Hong Thuat (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)
Speaker: Vu Hong Thuat
Topic: Narrative and metanarrative
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


In the context of the fourth global industrial revolution, song-singing for spirits (Vietnamese: Chầu Văn) has become increasingly more imperative with its role in social transmission between the old and young, as well as religious rites and activities of culture, art and entertainment. In the 16th century, song-singing for spirits was used by osmosis in the rituals of spirit possession (Vietnamese: Lên đồng, literally meaning as going into trance), when practicing the belief in Mother Goddesses of Three and Four Realms (Vietnamese: Tam-Tứ phủ), for the purpose of recognizing the role and credit of the deities to the people and the country.

Taking a Linguistic Anthropological perspective, this paper focuses on interpreting the transformation of belief practices in the performance of the song-singing for spirits for recent years. The research aims to demonstrate that song-singing for spirits was only practiced in rituals of spirit possession at worship places such as pagodas, temples, and shrines, but is now performed for other activities such as water puppetry, Cheo (a traditional musical theatre), and theatrical performances. The transformation of language practice in song-singing for spirits helps the audience recognize deities in each incarnation of spirit possession rituals. However, it also significantly strengthens community cohesion through ritual. In language practice, song-singing for spirits not only consists of a variety of aspects such as music (sound art, rhythms, and tempos), lyrics, human, society, culture etc., but is also an intangible cultural heritage via the mediums and the singers. The transformation of language in the song-singing for spirits from the old tune to the modern one has been accepted by society, changing the awareness between the old and the young.

In addition to describing the characteristics of the song-singing for spirits attached closely to the rituals of spirit possession, especially, I would like to provide readers further understanding of the social relationship between those who are responsible for addressing worship places, mediums, and singers, whereby some policy recommendations are made for appropriate cultural management to be applied to practitioners of the Mother-Goddess belief.

The research provides a cultural symbolic frame in the language of the song-singing for spirits attached to the rituals of spirit possession, which consists of multiple musical styles, lyrics, forms of the onstage performance and various art genres, and a range of challenges in contemporary society.

Keywords: Song singing, Vietnam, Linguistic Anthropology