« Then » singing in Tuyen Quang and other northern Vietnamese provinces is making necessary preparations to seek United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognition as an intangible world cultural heritage in urgent need of protection.

This is a big opportunity for the Tay ethnic minority group in Tuyen Quang Province to display its cultural heritage to the world. However, this move also poses challenges for the province in how to preserve and promote the values of this special traditional art form.

Velvety « Then » singing

The word Then originates from « Thien », which means Sky or Heaven, therefore Then singing is regarded by the local Tay ethnic minority group as a tune of the Gods. For many centuries, “Then” singing has always been an indispensable spiritual dish of the Tay ethnic group in Tuyen Quang and in the Viet Bac region in general.

The content of Tuyen Quang’s Then singing is divided into two groups: Worship « Then » and Festival « Then ». According to statistics of Tuyen Quang Museum, Worship « Then » and Festival « Then » include about 60 ancient songs. Worship « Then » songs are often sung at peaceful nights when people fall asleep, helping listeners immerse themselves fully in the songs while Festival « Then » songs are considered as a way to communicate with the deities to ask for bumper crops and a more prosperous and happy life.

According to culture researchers, the outstanding features of « Then » singing are shown in the simple words which are full of images and close with daily life along with soft, insistent rhythms. Therefore, « Then » singing also became popular among the Nung and the Thai peoples and is now practiced in 14 provinces and cities across Vietnam.

Professor, Doctor To Ngoc Thanh, Chairman of the Viet Nam Folk Arts Association said if superstitious factors to use « Then » singing for medical purposes are not counted, then it is both a traditional cultural space and a folk art work that reflects, describes and reminds us of the ups and downs in our ancestors’ lives.

Efforts to preserve « Then » singing

Like many other art forms, « Then » singing is on the brink of falling into oblivion. A recent survey conducted by Tuyen Quang Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism showed that « Then » singing is performed mainly in Chiem Hoa, Na Hang and Lam Binh districts and some communes in other districts. There are currently very few artists who can master this art form. Therefore, it will be a big challenge for Tuyen Quang Province in preserving this musical genre as Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan agreed to compile the dossier for UNESCO to recognize it as a humankind cultural heritage.

In the short term period, the Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism will suggest and consult with the province about solutions to preserve and promote value of « Then » singing. They include research, collection, compilation and publication of books and music disks concerning Tay ethnic group’s « Then » singing. Other solutions would include organizations of training and practicing courses and coordination with localities to invite artisans to instruct the young generations.

Nguyen Viet Thanh, the Director of Tuyen Quang Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism said the provincial culture sector is drafting a mechanism to encourage and honor artisans and those who are devoted to maintaining and imparting this art form to younger generations.

However, researchers said preservation and promotion of the Tay ethnic group’s cultural heritage in Tuyen Quang would not be an overnight task and need contribution of the whole community, especially each individuals’ awareness in conserving traditional culture of Vietnamese peoples and the « Then » singing of Tay ethnic group’s in particular.

Source: VEN

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