By Quang Đán
The ethnic Dao group in the northern province of Tuyên Quang are particularly proud of one local old man, who they regard as a kind-hearted teacher handing down the ancient characters of their language as well as their traditional cultural identity.
Ngân translates ancient books to teach younger people. VNA/VNS Photo Quang Đán
Now in his 70s, Chu Tuần Ngân, a native of Trung Minh Commune, Yên Sơn District, has spent nearly 40 years researching the Dao ethnic minority’s traditional cultural features and passing on his knowledge to younger people.
“I’m fortunate that both my father and grandfather were experienced shaman, fluent in Nôm-Dao (ancient Vietnamese and Dao ideographic scripts) and knowledgeable about the Dao ethnicity,” Ngân says.
He learned from a young age about the language’s characters and the group’s traditional culture, like Pad Dung folk singing and customs such as ceremonies celebrating maturity or wishing for a bumper harvest.
Most young Dao today learn Vietnamese at school but don’t know how to read or write the ancient Nôm-Dao characters.
Only a number of elderly can read and write the language, which is why Ngân does his best to pass it down to the young.
Ngân (standing) teaches at a class at his home. Photo baodantoc.vn
He has held free Nôm-Dao language classes at his home since 2013, and has some 30 regular students.
It initially only attracted young people from Trung Minh Commune, before others from Chiêm Hóa and Hàm Yên districts in Tuyên Quang and then some from neighbouring Bắc Kạn Province also came to study.
Ngân translated ancient books handed down by his father and grandfather to use as teaching materials.
“When I heard about this class, I knew I had to find the time to attend,” says Bàn Văn Huỳnh from Vàng Ngược Village in Trung Minh Commune.
“After learning how to read and write Nôm-Dao, I devoured a whole load of ancient books about the customs and philosophy of my people. I now understand my culture so much better.”
Huỳnh hopes to become a master in the language and teach others, just like Ngân is doing, to help preserve Dao culture.
“I have learned not only the language from Ngân but also his positive character,” he says.
Another cultural treasure of the Dao is Páo Dung folk singing.
“In the Dao language, Páo Dung means singing,” Ngân explains. “Folk singing is a way for our people to convey their feelings, hopes, and narratives.”
The greatest value of the singing, he says, is educating the Dao about their roots and homeland.
People practise Páo Dung singing at Ngân's house. Photo dantoc.vn
Ngân set up the first Páo Dung Singing Club in Trung Minh Commune in 2014, with 40 members, then a year later set up two Cultural Identity Preservation Clubs, with 80 members.
He has taught members of both how to perform Páo Dung and the group’s various folk dances.
Đặng Thị Thoa, a member of the Cultural Identity Preservation Club in Vàng Ngược Village, Trung Minh Commune, says she had no idea how to sing Páo Dung before joining the club.
“As well as teaching us how to sing, Ngân has also taught us many dances,” she says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be in the club, as singing and dancing are relaxing and I now understand more about my group’s culture.”
Ngân still spares no effort to spread the Dao culture.
He was presented the title of Meritorious Researcher of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2019.
To the local Dao community in Trung Minh Commune, Ngân is not only a promoter of folk culture but also an esteemed elder.
Ngân shares his knowledge widely. VNA/VNS Photo Quang Đán
He has persuaded local people to get rid of backward customs, follow the law, and focus on developing the local economy to improve their lives.
“My greatest desire is to encourage local people to preserve and develop our traditional cultural features, lead them towards healthy cultural activities, and eradicate superstitious practices from the past,” Ngân says.
According to Nguyễn Văn Hòa, deputy director of the Tuyên Quang Culture, Tourism and Sports Department, Ngân is one of eight people in the province to have been given the noble title.
“He is indeed an esteemed elder in the community and has made considerable contributions to passing down the Nôm-Dao language to the young,” Hòa says.
He has also been a pioneer in establishing cultural clubs to enrich local people’s spiritual lives. VNS