Lê Huỳnh – Lệ Quyên
Quảng Trị Department of Culture, Sports & Tourism
Bài chòi is a special traditional folk custom born long time ago in the Central Coast of Vietnam. Before 1945, people in almost every village in Quảng Trị play bài tới to relax on Tet. Bài tới is actually an entertaining activity mainly for the elderly (middle-aged and older) within family sitting on mats to play. Subsequently, Bài tới is played in larger scale and adopts changes in rule. In Traditional New Year festival, people in many villages bristle up cabins on the courtyard of village’s communal house to hold bài chòi festival, also known as the Spring Bài chòi Festival, which is open to all ages. Thenceforth, bài chòi becomes a truly festival for the entire community that is called Bài chòi Festival in folklore.
Experiencing the ups and downs of history, Quảng Trị, a land suffering the war and separation for a long time, never lets the folk art Bài chòi disappear. For that reason, Bài chòi activity contains cultural sediments of historical periods in Quảng Trị and integrates layers of culture, different cultural phenomena during exchanging and acquiring cultures between Kinh people and local minorities when they expand territory to the South.
Some interesting coincidences have been unveiled thanks to researches about the Central of Vietnam and the Central art of Bài chòi in land of the ancient Champa kingdom. Being the land of a diverse cultural aspects and minor regions in addition,
Quảng Trị has become a buffer zone to this special folk art space.
In the period of 1945-1975 and years after the Reunification, due to the war, troubles and separation, bài chòi was considered a kind of gamble and a waste of time. Therefore, Bài chòi festival had no longer been constantly held in villages in Quảng Trị. It is at risk of being lost.
The Spring Bài chòi Festival is a cultural folk activity practiced long time ago in Central provinces, a space covering from the south end of mountain pass Ngang (between Hà Tĩnh and Quảng Bình) to the south pole of the Central, including Central provinces from Quảng Bình to Bình Thuận. To Quảng Trị residents, Bài chòi Festival is a communal activity for villagers in spring days, which consists of elements of cultural folk art in the Central. It is also an intangible cultural heritage, which can be inherited, promoted, exchanged and interacted and become a custom of performance and enjoyment in antique daily life. That cultural phenomenon was remained popularly until the end of 1970s of the last century in this area.
Until the 1990s of the 20th century, Bài chòi Festival was revived in some villages namely Tùng Luật village in Vĩnh Giang commune, Đơn Duệ village in Vĩnh Hòa commune of Vĩnh Linh district, Ngô Xá Tây village in Triệu Trung commune of Triệu Phong district, Hà Thượng village in Gio Linh town of Gio Linh district. That Bài chòi festival was promising to come back to life met the need of entertainment in spring days and made the elderly’s recall of the past joyful festival days in spring in the homeland come true. In memory of many old people, there were the deep-carved images of festival days, the cabins, cards, dialogues and chantey of “ông hiệu” (male announcer) and “bà hiệu” (female announcer) among whom the typical one was folk artist Nguyễn Thị Đỉu (93 years old) who could still sing the chantey (hò bài thai) in bài chòi festival in Hà Thượng village.
However, today in some villages, there have been some changes in the rule of bài chòi. “Ông hiệu”, “bà hiệu”, “anh hiệu” and “chị hiệu” skip chantey hò thai to announce the content of picked card right away. The Bài chòi festival restoration in Ngô Tây Xá village, Triệu Trung commune, Triệu Phong district exposes the impacts of modern life on the content of chantey bài thai. The construction and materials of cabins gradually become like the antique by using picture material, bamboo, wood, bamboo string that suit the pure traditional Vietnamese space and the rustic cultural folk product.
Bài chòi festivals in Quảng Trị generally use a set of 30 pairs or 60 single cards to play but each area follows a particular rule. Cabins are the same in terms of material including thatch, bamboo and wood but different in number since people set up 11, 10 or 8 cabins in different areas. The diversity and plenty of the general Bài chòi festival are always appreciated by attendees. Ông hiệu and bà hiệu have to give extempore chantey that suits the situation on play yard. Notably, a chantey bears implications like a puzzle that requires players to reason to know the card already picked. The play become more and more interesting till the end as the chairman/chairwoman are always giving creative chantey, which forces players to stay focused, make guess and discuss to reveal the card exclaimed. Players also have to make calculations so that the competitive cabin which is “waylaying” can not “repeatedly win” and skip to the next turn.
Quảng Trị possesses different features that constitute the plenty of a kind of art. It can be based on to determine the culture region and the unity in diversity of the complex art bài chòi so that solutions to preserve bài chòi can be figured out. The unity and the plenty of the complex cultural entity “Bài chòi art region” may be more accurately located through reference in the Central culture region and remarkable features of the Central culture.
From the “perspective of geoculture”, the history of territory expand, the co-residence of the ancient Southeast Asian culture base of Kinh people and a long time rid of the original point by the North-South separation, Vietnamese culture in this land adopts new characteristics, features and shades. Features of geoculture and history of culture in the Central are elements that determine and influence the formation and development of Bài chòi Festival, the antique folk art of performance bài chòi in the Central and characteristics of method - model of development of this heritage in historical periods. When doing research in the formation and development of the folk art Bài chòi, scientists always pay attention to the unity and specific characteristics of Bài chòi in locals and minor cultural regions.
Being practiced in the entire Central, Bài chòi art has become a “culture space” in a “region of a kind of culture”. However, the most outstanding point to prove the diversity in unity is the sharp differences between Bài chòi art in North Central (the North of Hải Vân pass) and Bài chòi in South Central (the South of Hải Vân pass). Moreover, Bài chòi art in those two zones exist and develop differently in folklore activities as well.
Differences in Bài chòi culture spaces are geoculture, climate, and weather. The structure of Bài chòi festival space affects the performance art and method – model of development, turning them to special characteristics of Bài chòi performance art. In the North Central, the performance does not happen in a wide space, is attended, enjoyed and interacted by small community. The performance art does not focus on acting. Regarding singing, music is romantic, light, profound, and expressive in the likes of poetry, crambo, and puzzle. The war, separation, dispersion, destruction cemented with Quảng Trị are presented in poem, chantey and crambo about the war, the love for the homeland, the determination to protect villages, the comradeship and the love of couples. Meanwhile in the South Central, characteristics of structure of the performance space and the practice of bài chòi are different. The performance art is normally practiced in open space, involving the significant interaction and exchange among community in the festival and on the folk stage. Accordingly, the singing integrates many shades of music. The genre of literature singing consists of narration, poem story, and pieces of tuồng (poem).
Researches in Bài chòi art are done in order to figure out the way, method and basis of its characteristics during the development and its features in different periods, locals and minor culture regions along the Central land. This art’s features which are fostered in Quảng Trị will probably be new findings that may help researchers get a comprehensive view of Bài chòi, a folk art containing both the plenty and unity with several hidden values waiting exposure.
The preservation and promotion of traditional cultural values and features, especially to intangible cultural heritage, are difficult but urgent in the current context. This preliminary sketch gives some solutions that can be applied in the current period:
- Set up media programs to raise awareness and responsibility of the community and the entire society to the preservation and promotion of values of heritage folk art Bài chòi. Encourage people to join activities to preserve folk art Bài chòi in local area and have more and more people involved in the saving of the traditional heritage Bài chòi.
- Folk artists play an important role in the preservation of intangible cultural heritages. The heritage Bài chòi is not an exception. It needs to have the care for folk artists since the majority of them are at old age and suffering health problems. We need to pressingly collect and record the treasure of traditional hô bài chòi sentences to store and documentalize them.
- Have to implement the mechanism and policy to gather and train the generation of successors. In short-term, we need to urgently support old folk artists who know many Bài chòi shanties so that they can teach the next generation. Simultaneously, Bài chòi lovers, especially who are good at singing and playing instruments should be encouraged and supported to learn and practice to boost their talents.
- Organize and maintain bài chòi clubs as a kind of group for favorite activity which is partly subsidized by the State and socialized. Maintain bài chòi festivals in villages not only in spring but also in significant events of the local.
- Increase the number of Bài chòi festival, competition, contest in various scales: under-province level, province level, region level to promote the competition among folk artists, groups, clubs of Bài chòi and to provide them with opportunities to exchange and learn from each other about folk art performance Bài chòi.
- Build up a plan for each region to execute the restoration of the Art of Bài chòi with its special characteristics so that the diversity in this traditional folk art performance can be exposed. Besides, we need to widen the current culture space for Bài chòi activities so that it becomes really popular and ably adjust to the economical and social conditions in this contemporary life. Focus on the joint of “static preservation” and “dynamic preservation” to survive content of the heritage. Concurrently avoid the improper stagization and modernization abuse.
- Complete the nomination file to submit to UNESCO to recognize Bài chòi an intangible cultural heritage of the humanity. Being recognized will both assure the legal framework for the preservation and promotion of the heritage and raise the consciousness of the community to recognize, pay more attention and contribute to the preservation and promotion of the heritage values.
Vietnamese Bài chòi festival, also known as the art of Bài chòi in the Central, has been living for hundreds of years in the Central coastal provinces. During people’s productive labor, the interference and gathering among cultures and human creativity ceaselessly happen. Bài chòi has become one of the cultural activities in the local life, an indispensable food for thought of various classes of the locals for a long time. Facing with the speedy changes in economics, culture, society, especially in context of the fierce culture exchange and international integration, Bài chòi activity are seriously challenged and at high risk of deformation and oblivion. Henceforth, the preservation and promotion of Bài chòi heritage values are urgently required. The Government, local administrators, scientists, culture managers, communities and the society should jointly endeavour to perform synchronized solutions to sustainably save this precious folk art heritage Bài chòi in the Central of Vietnam.