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VietNamNews

Communal houses in decline

Update: December, 11/2013 - 09:32
Caricatures: Decorative wooden ‘genies from communal houses are displayed at an exhibition of Northern Delta artwork, which will run until December 19 at the Fine Arts University, 42 Yet Kieu Street. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

HA NOI (VNS)— The key role that communal houses (dinh) play in preserving and developing the nation's culture should be recognised and brought into full play lest they fall prey to modern times, experts said at a conference in Ha Noi yesterday.

Historian Le Van Lan said a communal house in northern Viet Nam was a central, intrinsic part of the village's development. It was not just a holy place for worshipping the village patron saint, but a space where cultural activities of local communities like festivals and folk art shows were held.

They also reflected the aesthetic values of villages through sculptural, architectural and other expressions.

However, current research into communal houses and their significance has not been done in a comprehensive manner that brings together the interests and agendas of various stakeholders.

The failure to do this makes it difficult to come up with a comprehensive preservation model that will ensure that communal houses remain and thrive as repositories of local culture, he said.

The current challenge is to preserve communal houses at a time when rapid and uncontrolled urbanization is making villages disappear, he said. In this context, communal houses have an even more important role to play, he added.

Professor Bui Thi Thanh Mai of the Viet Nam Fine Arts University said that research conducted since 2011 throughout the north of Viet Nam showed that most local elders remembered legends about village patron saint as well as tales about the communal houses themselves.

However, this level of engagement was missing among young people who "rarely visit communal houses", she said.

"They only go there to attend festivals," she added.

Researcher Nguyen Duc Binh from the culture ministry's Fine Arts Department said most communal houses in the north were built in the 15th century and enjoyed their golden time in 17th-18th centuries.

He said every village in Viet Nam had its cultural and aesthetic traditions.

"There is art heritage in each work. A statue may not be simply an object to worship. A building is not just a place for shelter. If we look at them carefully, we will find out the special mark of time [era] in each design, decorative pattern."

Binh also pointed out that a few decades ago, residents gathered at communal houses to enjoy folk games and arts, they are now being entertained at home by modern mass media. That's why they are not as important as they were in the past, he said.

Mai, a lecturer of the University of Fine Arts, said every member of society should be responsible for preserving communal houses. People are the owners of a nation's heritage and its cultural managers, she said. — VNS


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