Elite Teacher Cao Chí Hải
Thừa Thiên Huế is an important and strategic location, the bridge connecting Northern and Southern Vietnam. It bears national precious fortunes during the development of the land Thuận Hóa – Phú Xuân – Thừa Thiên Huế. Huế is also a cultural land, which harmoniously coheres the ancient Đông Sơn civilization and Sa Huỳnh civilization and exchanges further with international civilizations namely Nam Hải, India, China. Then groups of residents come to explore, settle down and create features of Huế cultural identities. The fluctuations of history and society change, transform and create many cultural values inluding the traditional art of Bài chòi, one of the intangible cultural heritages, one of the featured folk arts playing an important role in the spiritual life of people in Thừa Thiên Huế. Remarkably, the art of Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế is distinguished from other Central provinces namely Bình Định, Phú Yên, Khánh Hòa, etc since the art of Bài chòi in each cultural region inextricably links with that local life and people.
Regarding the formation of the folk art of Bài chòi in Thừa Thiên Huế, there have already not many intensive researches done to clearify the history of Bài chòi. However, they mostly come to the consent that Bài chòi might be born in 15th Century. Bài chòi is derived from tổ tôm. Hence, Bài tới cards in Bài chòi festival are also ordered by văn, vạn, sách in tổ tôm. According the narration of Bài chòi folk artists, the origin and formation of the art of Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế link with the daily life of working class. Born from people’s several centuries of working, producing and giving creativeness, the art of Bài chòi gradually becomes a habit of enjoying culture and the indispensable food for thought of people in Huế.
Bài chòi folk artists born in early 20th century say that when they were little, they often followed parents to sit at huts to join Bài chòi festival in village communal house or market grounds. It also proves that Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế was born and became popular hundreds of years ago. There is a material of Trần family tree in Hương Cần village, in which the origin, the way to build up huts and the regulations of Bài chòi play are written. An excerpt from the family tree is: “In Nghệ An, people use the card of tổ tôm to play Bài chòi, also known as tổ tôm điếm (hut). There are 2 huts in the left, 2 in the right side and 1 in the middle. There is a performer and a base card set to pick, which is called bài nọc. Regarding the signals, to start a turn, the drum is beaten and there are the strict rules determining when to beat sanh, cắc or tỏm (or tỏm, cắc). In our village, playing like the tổ tôm điếm, but we use Bài tới card set and call it Bài chòi. It is quite not hard to follow the rules of Bài chòi play.
Whenever receiving a card, we can play right away without making calculations, thinking to much or distinguishing the black and red cards like in. Thanks to its simplicity and joy, Bài chòi is largly loved to play by villagers...”. Those precious words once again state the position and the important role of the art of Bài chòi in the spiritual life of villagers in Huế.
Based on the fieldwork materials, we preliminarily suppose Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế is originated from Bài ghế. It is Bài ghế turning to Bài chòi over historical periods. It means that the art of Bài chòi has a strong vitality and meets the demand of the public to enjoy the art at higher and higher standard. Bài ghế is normally held is a huge hut, or at the communal house of the village where people arrange chairs in U shape for 2 sides of players. Especially, in Thanh Thủy Chánh ward, people utilize the 2 opposite long corridors for pedestrians to take a rest to hold Bài ghế. In a Bài ghế festival, players are divided into 2 sides with 5 people in each side. After delivering cards to players, anh Hiệu (the performer) randomly picks a card to go shopping. When someone tới (wins), he/she has the right to go shopping in next turn. There are 8 turns in a play.
After long time playing Bài ghế, people create 11 huts made of thatch and bamboo on the large ground in front of the village’s communal house or huge space in the markets. There are tools namely cymbal, golden bell, drum... Huts separated by a distance of about 1 – 2 meters; the height from ground to floor is 1.2 meters and from floor to roof is 1.3 meters. There are 10 huts located in 2 opposite sides and 1 Central hut in the middle. The area of a hut is approximately 2m2. Players are supposed to sit at huts alone or with their family members and friends. The rule of Bài chòi is the same as Bài ghế (siting on chairs instead of huts). Activities of Bài chòi excitingly happen in a wide range to entertain all people in the area in the traditional festival days. According to the memories of people around Chợ Nọ (Phú Dương commune), there was a 2 - hectare land belonging to a mandarin. He hired people to build up huts and operate Bài chòi in every Tết festival.
Since 1930s of the 20th Century, the art of Bài chòi has no longer been held in large scale and widely porpular in communes and villages of Thừa Thiên Huế. In recent years, to simplify and convenience the play, the locals have replaced huts by chairs particularly in villages of Hương Thủy, Hương Trà and Quảng Điền. It creates a phenomenon and trend to come back to Bài ghế in villages of Thừa Thiên Huế.
Huế is known as the only place printing Bài tới, a component of Bài chòi play. In Địa Linh village (Hương Vinh commune, Hương Trà town), there are over 10 families still printing Bài tới, a card set of 30 pairs about 3 tomes: văn, vạn, sách and 3 pairs of love. The tome văn includes the cards: gối, trường hai, trường ba, voi, rún, sáu tiền, liễu, tám tiền, xe. The tome vạn include: học trò, tám cẳng, ba đấu, xơ, quăn, nhọn, bồng, thầy. The tome sách include: nọc đượng, nghèo, gà, gióng, dày, sáu hột, sưa, tám giây, đỏ mỏ. 3 card pairs of love are: ông ầm, thái tử, bạch tuyết.
To make a Bài tới card set, the craftsmen cut papers, spread black and red ink onto a block of wood, put papers on that wood block then dries them. Particularly, they spread black ink onto the wood blocks, put dó papers on them to print a raw Bài tới card set. The raw cards are dried then cut to make complete cards. To do the profession of making Bài tới cards, the craftsman has to be very painstaking and skillful. In the past, Bài tới of Địa Linh village is totally made of dó paper, printed in wood block but nowadays people use industrial paper and silk printing technique, which is more convenient to produce.
Wood block to print Bài tới in Địa Linh village is made of jackfruit wood, decandrouse persimmon wood, or mức wood. No one but talented craftsmen can engrave the wood block to maintain the identity and hand down to the successors. There are quite few people thoroughly mastering the engraving technique of traditional Bài tới card set. The card set illustrates various abstract images, with particular signs on each card. It is also said that the drawings on cards apparently reflect Champa culture mixing with the decoration of Thượng people.
Bài chòi festival is vibrating and exciting thanks to the shanties mái nhì, mái đẩy, which are deliberate and quiet like the souls of Huế people. The Hiệu is the one who composes and performs shanties of which contents are about names of the Bài tới cards with folk featured drawings. Singing shanties and songs, performing Bài chòi contribute to the excitement of the play and let players enjoy the shanties and do intellectual exercise at the same time. Hence, it becomes an elegant literary game. Singing shanties in Bài chòi is a kind of nonprofessional art and performers are farmers, males and females in the villages who volunteer to join. They are people who are good at performing arts, able to sing and extemporize. There are only 5-7 qualified ones in each commune. Audiences are farming co-workers, neighbors, or visitors who come to join Bài chòi festival.
The content of shanties is the praise of love for parents, gratitude of students to teachers, spouse love... Not only humane, the content is also about moral education, personality, lifestyle and beauty. It guides people to higher ethical standard, praise of neighborhood, human behavior, and criticize bad habits in life.
Bài chòi is a popular folk art form, which bears the particular cultural identity of local community. Bài chòi brings the breath of life and presents the cultural diversity and creativity that have been succeeded through generations in the local community. The art of Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế is different from it in southern provinces of Central Vietnam in folk festival characteristic. Specifically, the art of Bài chòi Huế is dense of folklore since the game is purely held to entertain the community in festivals. It has not been stagized or formed to professional groups. Meanwhile, the troups of Bài chòi in Bình Định, Phú Yên, Quảng Nam add many tunes and long folk stories to the game and hire professional performers to act as anh Hiệu...
The communal trait in the art of Bài chòi can be clearly seen in the rule, players, game space and time and the inextricabe relations between players and the Hiệu, players and the Organizing Committee and the direct involvement of huge number of audience from all classes but not only enjoy and applaud. The special trait of Bài chòi is the combination of folk cultural activities, which brings people a chance to show their talents, to perform, and also where the members of community gather and tightly connected to each other and boost that precious traditional feature of Vietnamese.
The art of Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế, frequently held in local festivals and Tết, is the creation crystallized during the process of productive labor, cross-culture and artistic creativity of the indigenous people. Bài chòi has become a popular cultural activity and indispensable spiritual food for all classes of people including the elderly and youngsters in the area of Huế. The art of Bài chòi Thừa Thiên Huế and other provinces and cities in Central Vietnam make the diversity of cultural space and really is the unique cultural heritage of Vietnam.