Tug-of-war named cultural heritage

Update: December, 04/2015 - 08:56
People from La Hu ethnic group play tug-of-war folk game in their festival. Tugging rituals and games have been recognised as a tradition of humanity by UNESCO. — VNS Photo Doan Tung

HA NOI (VNS) — A traditional Vietnamese tug-of-war folk game was added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity icons yesterday, along with three other Asian countries with a similar tradition.

Tugging rituals and games, proposed by Viet Nam, Cambodia, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines, gained recognition from UNESCO as a tradition of humanity during the 10th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, held in Namibia.

The four countries registered their bid for UNESCO recognition in March last year, suggesting that the East Asian-wide tradition has been promoting the welfare and prosperity of communities.

This multi-national heritage is prevalent in the rice-farming cultures of East Asia and Southeast Asia as a way for communities to pray for abundant harvests and prosperity. These games mark the start of the agricultural cycle and often begin with commemorative rites to local deities.

Typically held near a communal house or shrine, two teams on either end of a rope try to tug it away from the other. The practice is non-competitive, strengthening community solidarity and identity, UNESCO said on its website.

In Viet Nam, tug-of-war is a folk game that is practised at a number of traditional festivals and community events.

Deputy Chairman of the Viet Nam Association of Cultural Heritage Dang Van Bai said tug-of-war was a special cultural heritage, noting it was not only a social practice but also appears in traditional rituals and festive events.

"It is a folk game that appeared in Viet Nam long ago. In addition to being entertaining, it reflects the people's traditional customs and spirit."

"It is often organised during festivals to pray for favourable weather, a good crop, happiness and prosperity. Also, it is a popular game held during sporting events to promote sportsmanship, honour and the power of unity and to encourage people to take up physical exercise to improve their health," he said.

In Viet Nam, the activity has been practised for generations by not only the Kinh people, the majority ethnic group in the country, but also by many smaller ethnic minority groups, he said.

Ropes made of different materials, wooden sticks and even hands are used in the game. The rules of the game may also vary in different regions, but above all, the game represents strength and unity. In modern society, tug-of-war remains a popular game, especially among students and workers.

At the festival of Huu Chap Village in the northern province of Bac Ninh, the tug-of-war game has become an official ritual of the village's traditional festivals and was recognised as the nation's intangible cultural heritage.

According to legend, local people wanted to find strong people to build houses and communal houses, so they organised a competition involving the pulling of timber rafts, which later became the tug-of-war game. The village's festival of tug-of-war has existed for 400 years and is held twice a year. The festival begins with a solemn procession, a worshipping ceremony and a ceremony to recall the village's history and traditions.

Nguyen Van Chuan, head of the village's Elderly Association, told the Voice of Vietnam (VOV) that tug-of-war was the most exciting event of the festival.

"Ropes are often used in tug-of-war, but people in the village connect two bamboo trees and pull on shoulder poles to show their strength. It takes people in the village months to prepare for the game. They have to find strong bamboo trees. It is an honor for a family whose bamboo trees are selected for the game. It is also an honor for those who are selected to play," he said.

With the newest addition, Viet Nam now has a total of 10 folk traditions on the UNESCO heritage list: the vi giam folk songs of central province of Nghe Tinh; the art of don ca tai tu music and songs in southern Viet Nam; the worship of the Hung Kings and xoan singing (a kind of folk singing with rituals) in northern Phu Tho Province; the Giong festival of the Phu Dong and Soc Temples, as well as ca tru (ceremonial singing); quan ho Bac Ninh (love duets) folk songs; nha nhac (Vietnamese court music) and the gong culture in the Central Highlands. — VNS