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Culture Vulture (Feb. 27 2013)

Update: February, 27/2013 - 10:39

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is gathering public comment on a master plan for festivals during 2012-15, with a vision to 2020. The plan aims to preserve and promote the development of about 7,000 traditional festivals nationwide. Nguyen Van Huy, former director of the Viet Nam Museum of Ethnology and a member of the National Heritage Council, spoke about the plan.

What is your opinion of the proposed master plan to manage traditional festivals?

The plan is designed to organise 7,000 traditional festivals on different levels from national to district and village level, but it ignores some expensive, newly-emerging festivals which are in need of some reforms.

Festivals originate from the customs of communities and should be protected and preserved. So I don't think the plan should classify the festivals.

Folk festivals are rooted in the traditions of each community. So replanning them for political or economic or tourism purposes will cause these folk festivals to become nationalised and no longer traditional.

The State should let traditional festivals develop as they always have. The State should support festivals financially if needed, but the most important thing is not to interfere with them. For instance, the scale of the Tran Temple Festival in the northern province of Nam Dinh is no longer limited to just some villages around the temple as it used to be.

What should the State do to preserve traditional festivals?

It is not necessary to make traditional festivals bigger to try and allure more visitors. The main thing is to maintain community life for local people, satisfying their spiritual wishes for health, peace and bumper crops. It is ideal to leave festivals in the hands of local organisers. The festivals belong to the local community and are there for the community.

We should carefully reconsider whether to classify festivals into four levels [national, provincial, district and communal]. At present, only the Hung (Temple) Festival is a State-level festival, but it has had that status for 20 years. But if this plan goes forward, I'm afraid that many other festivals will be upgraded. It will lead to a situation in which traditional festivals are racing to receive UNESCO recognition as world heritage or other titles.

Festivals like the Ba Chua Xu (Local Goddess) Festival in the southern province of An Giang or the Nguyen Trung Truc Festival in the neighbouring province of Kien Giang have been well-managed by locals.

But there are those who want to upgrade them into regional festivals. If they do, I'm not sure the festivals will be as well-organised and their sanctity will fade.

According to the drafters of the plan, classifying festivals would help authorities target and improve their management. What do you think?

A festival held by a village is a worship ceremony at a small-scale but of great spiritual significance. Another village may hold a festival at a larger scale.

Nevertheless, we cannot say for sure which one is more significant or sacred to be eligible for the plan. All festivals are equal in terms of sacredness and community significance.

Which should be given priority for State funding or support? Priority will make everything artificial and create negativity.

The master plan also mentions festival restoration. Which the festivals will be revived? What matters here is not reviving them but proper investment into studying. Each folk festival needs to be thoroughly studied.

That's the most important thing. Researchers should depict festivals in every detail from their inception to see how they have developed and evolved.

The documentation will help cultural policymakers make proper investments.

In 1937, ethnologist Nguyen Van Huyen published research on the Giong Festival [which was recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009] and the Gia Festival, both in Ha Noi. These two studies have been extremely helpful for festival managers. Lacking such basic research, the management of some festivals has been undertaken based on the personal feelings of the managers. — VNS

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