The Hanoitimes - “My friend, please stay here, do not return home. When doing so, you make me weep silently. The two flaps of my dress will be soaked with tears...” are the so beautiful words of a popular Quan Ho song named “Goodbye” (or “Gia ban” in Vietnamese), that makes our supposed upcoming pilgrimage to the Lim Festival so meaningful.
Should you have interest in Vietnamese culture and festivals, you would rather follow us in this following supposed pilgrimage to the Lim Festival. It is the done thing in Lim Town, Tien Du District, Bac Ninh Province where thousands of visitors go on a pilgrimage to this festival to be held at the beginning of Spring. Annually taking place from 13th to 15th of the first lunar month, the Lim Festival is among the most impressive festivals, ceremonies and singing in Former Kinh Bac, which now account for a majority of villages in Bac Ninh Province.
The most typical Lim Festival feature is Quan Ho singing, a special folk song, which includes betel offering, hailing ferry and others. Stretching back over 500 years and recently recognised by UNESCO as part of humanity’s intangible heritage, Quan ho is a living historical record of the daily life of Vietnamese people. The beautiful lyrics are of profound meanings, and incline leading up the pagoda on Lim hill, where Lim Pagoda is located. Lim Pagoda - the place worshipping Mr. Hieu Trung Hau, who invented Quan Ho, is very large and airy with a lot of eucalyptus and couch trees. Like other religious festivals, the Lim Festival goes through all the ritual stages, from the procession to the worshipping ceremony, and includes other activities. The atmosphere is filled with the stream of music and poems, which stimulate people’s feelings. Colorful clothes, conical hats, brassieres and handkerchiefs show the vitality of the spring, human and their surroundings.
Perform Quan ho singing on boat
Different from song exchanges in other places, the Quan Ho folk song festival is very well-organised. Visitors from everywhere come to "hat doi" in Quan ho, enjoy the festival and see the performances of "lien anh" (male singers) and "lien chi" (female singers).
These singers are normal farmers of the village and others in daily life, but surprisingly turn out to be the nation's most skilled Quan Ho artists on the special occasion of Lim festival. Their singing performances are consisted of different types of songs, and have ranging stages: in the pagodas’ yard, the communal house’ yard, on the hills, even on boats gently rowed along the river, or elsewhere.
"Lien anh" (male singers) and "lien chi" (female singers)
The singers are mostly categorized into two groups, which are called brothers and sisters groups. They dress in their best and distinctive style: men wearing long dress and holding umbrellas, and women, elegant four-flapped dresses with colourful belts, which is their discreet manner, and traditional large flat hats. They have a unique way of approaching one another in the form of songs.
At the beginning of the performance, crowds gather around the singers, and are eager to follow the deft catchy melodies, and savor the humorous, yet often heartfelt lyrics. When each group performs, the audiences listen attentively, while indulging in the traditional chewy festival food of An Trau- areca, lime, rose-petal and betel once used to colour teeth and wear away daily troubles. Quan ho is typified by alternate verses sung by different singers, either in pairs or in groups. The two most popular types of Quan ho are hat doi’ (call-and-response singing) and hat doi (duet singing) groups, which originate hundreds of years ago, with some of the earliest songs dating back as far as the fifteenth century. According to some scholars, they even began under the Ly dynasty (1009-1225), when men and women from neighboured villages in Bac Ninh province began to sing alternate verses to each other.
In terms of content, the Quan Ho song exchange is multifaceted, involving analogies, questions and replies and quizzes on a myriad of subjects. One of the characteristics of Quan ho that remains throughout the time is the proper verbal and poetic introduction to every tune. Quan ho singers are not only appreciated for their singing ability, but also for their skill in leaving an impression of their gracefulness and literary adeptness on the audience. As a rule, all messages must be in songs with occasionally some explanations to further elucidate the ideas. During lunch, the host singers must provide company to their partners, offer them food and, again, songs. In the afternoon, the visiting singers are requested to continue the song exchange up to midnight when there would be recess and a tea party. Thereafter, the song exchange goes on until dawn, when guests and hosts and hostesses, again in the form of songs, bid farewell and express keen hope to meet again some time in the future.
Ready to sing Quan ho
In addition to Quan Ho folk song performances, village festivals also involves many other traditional games and entertainments, contests, fairs and cultural activities, such as human chess, water puppetry, lion dances, swinging, wrestling, cock-fighting and more. It is also a traditional opportunity for young men and women to seek life partners. Young men and women who want to find their partners often come up hill to sing. There men hold umbrellas while women are wearing flat palm hats, without concern about the sun or rain. Sometimes they can even sing all night to show their love, ebullient passion and grace. Besides, visitors can come to the Lim Festival to enjoy the weaving competition of the Noi Due girls. They weave and sing Quan Ho songs at the same time.
Being a special cultural activity in the North, with the Quan Ho folk song performances and variety of activities, the Lim Festival really impress visitors. The Festival has become a part of the national culture and a typical folk song festival that is well-loved not only in Bac Ninh Province, but in the Red River Delta region as well.
By Anh Kiet