(VNS) The Vietnamese people's worshipping of Hung kings was included on the UNESCO representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity earlier this month.
Nguyen Chi Ben, rector of the Viet Nam Culture and Arts Research Institute, who has joined the team compiling the dossier to submit to UNESCO and was among the few Vietnamese people to witness the moment UNESCO announced their decision in Paris on December 6, talks about the special cultural phenomenon.
How did the dossier team choose the phrase "the worship of Hung kings" as the title for the project?
When we chose Hung kings as the main subject of the dossier, there were many different opinions. The provincial authorities of Phu Tho, where houses the greatest number of relics of the kings, proposed titles "Relics of Bronze and Early Iron Eras," "Hung Kings Culture Space" and "Hung Temple Festival". We rejected all the proposals.
Then, we took expert advice to select "The Worship of Hung Kings" because it meets one of UNESCO's criterion that the heritage should be "admitted by the whole community and handed down through generations."
According to recent statistics, there are more than 1,400 heritage sites worshipping Hung kings, their offspring and generals throughout the country. That's why this is a special cultural phenomenon.
How do you think the belief continues to develop?
People's demand for belief pilgrimage is developing more and more. The number of pilgrims flocking to Hung Temple complex in Phu Tho Province has rapidly increased over the past few years. People throughout the country also organise festivals commemorating Hung kings at their local temples all year round. So I think the belief is developing both across a wider area and depth of thought.
Our State has respected the belief and paid much attention to organising the festival commemorating the kings' death in the third lunar month in Phu Tho.
Does this fact affect the process of compiling the dossier?
This is the very obstacle that we have to overcome to persuade UNESCO.
Different from other beliefs, the worshipping of Hung kings exposes all of its holiness and magic during the festivals.
Our ruling States throughout history have influenced and encouraged the festivals. Six hundreds years ago, King Le Thanh Tong issued a policy to give certain areas of land to local residents around Nghia Linh Mountain, which is home to several Hung kings worshipping temples, in order to make farming products especially for worshipping.
Nguyen kings also clearly defined the time and persons organising Hung kings' memorial ceremonies.
And currently, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism hosts the festival every five years while local authorities host the intervening years.
Our team's task was to persuade UNESCO that the State's interference was proper and we succeeded [in persuading UNESCO].
What should we do to further preserve the belief, especially since it has been recognised by UNESCO and will receive more attention?
In general, intangible heritage is more fragile and vulnerable than its tangible counterpart. That's why we should take special care to protect intangible heritage.
With the Hung kings worship, our most difficult problem is effectively combining the roles of the State and community.
The final purpose is giving the heritage back to the community. But how and when we do that should be carefully thought out.
The community should be aware that the belief is their own heritage, which should be preserved and handed down to the next generations.
Other folk heritage like Giong festival and hat xoan (worship singing in Phu Tho Province) can be introduced at schools. Yet we cannot do so with the worship of Hung kings.
How should we deal with worship of Hung kings activities away from the Hung Temple complex in Phu Tho?
We mentioned in the dossier "the worship of Hung kings in Phu Tho Province", not at Nghia Linh Mountain only. Because the three temple areas in Nghia Linh Mountain namely Ha (Lower), Trung (Middle), Thuong (Upper) temples are just key points, not the entirety of the festival.
The belief practice in villages is very important. We stressed in the dossier that the worship of Hung kings was assigned to villagers in Phu Tho Province, from where the belief has spread throughout the country and even abroad. So we should raise the question of how to preserve the heritage all over the world.
In the coming time, we will pay more attention to preserving festivals in Hung kings worship relics in Hue, HCM City, Dac Lac and Kien Giang. — VNS