by Nguyen Thanh Ha
Local culture authorities are concerned that chau van (spiritual singing), considered to be an intangible heritage of Viet Nam, is being defiled by a number of people who take advantage of the art just to earn money.
Le Thi Hoa, 45, from the northern province of Nam Dinh's Truc Dinh Village, said her villagers had to pay VND20,000-50,000 or more to attend a seance where hau dong (mediumship) performers in a singing trance conveyed messages from their dead relatives and told them how they can earn a lot of money or escape from bad luck.
"The performers told us that they sing real chau van and almost all of our villagers believed that it was original, but my husband said that they use superstition in the performances only to earn money.
"Despite all, it attracts a lot of villagers, young and old," said Hoa.
Researcher Thao Giang, deputy director of the Viet Nam Centre of Art Development, said 'go-into-a trance' performers at many pagodas and temples have taken advantage of the art to promote superstition and earn money.
From the 1950s to 1980s, go-into-a-trance performing had developed strongly until it was banned by authorities for it use of superstition, said Thao.
He said official regulations are needed to guide chau van ceremonies and hau dong rituals - performed to honour the Mother Goddesses and connect with other gods - along with close co-ordination with local authorities to ensure that the original purpose of chau van is maintained and superstition is not exploited.
Apart from its use for spiritual purposes, chau van has also been brought to the stage to preserve the livelihood of some communities, but culture researchers worry that these type of performances defile the art.
People's Artist Lan Huong said the Youth Theatre staged a chau van ritual performance titled "Vietnamese Spiritual" using the language of dance and music.
"The trial play gained the support of many audiences," Huong said.
But Professor To Ngoc Thanh, chairman of the Viet Nam Folk Art Association, expressed his concern that bringing chau van to the stage separates the art from its original purpose and could cause the genre to lose its spiritual values.
"When we performed an extract of chau van in South Korea, where the ritual has developed, local audiences recognized that it was strange but said it was not mediumship. So the question of should we split the art from belief or not remains a problem," he said.
He said his point of view is that chau van remains alive and developed thanks to its spirit. If not for that, it would become a very cool copy.
Le Thi Minh Ly, director of the Research Centre for Culture Heritage, said the State should not strongly manage the activities of chau van and should not standardise its form through concrete regulations, but rather, it should help those communities involved in the art to preserve the artistic and spiritual values of this folk genre.
"We should let the art develop naturally from its origin," Ly said.
Professor Ngo Duc Thinh, director of the Research and Preservation Centre for Folk Art and Belief Culture, said this artistic ritual has developed among communities so preservation work should be done very carefully to protect its values.
"The biggest difference between the art's use of the Mother Goddesses opposed to the other ways in which it is used, is that the focus is not on the life of a dead person in heaven, but rather it reflects on people's real lives with their aspirations for health, wealth and luck, which are also aspirations for people of all times," said Thinh.
Chau van, Viet Nam's spiritual singing, has been developing in the country for centuries and it is being submitted to UNESCO for recognition as world intangible heritage of humanity.
Earlier this month, Ha Noi hosted a chau van singing festival for the first time, while Hai Phong, Hai Duong and Nam Dinh have organised such events many times. A wide variety of mediums have taken part in the festival, said Nguyen Khac Loi, deputy director of the Ha Noi Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
"Mediumship and chau van singing were also introduced in southern localities where the art is not popular," he said. — VNS