Hat Then (Then singing), a distinctive musical genre and a special
combination of the spiritual and cultural life of Tay, Nung and Thai
ethnic groups in Vietnam, has drawn the attention of many collectors and
researchers over the past decade.
Then singing is
practised in many northern provinces, including Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Thai
Nguyen, Lang Son, Ha Giang, Quang Ninh, Son La, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, Bac
Giang and Yen Bai, and the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak.
It is believed to be handed down from the God belonging to a
mysterious world to which only “Ong Then” and “Ba Then” can contact.
During rituals, “Ong Then” and “Ba Then” sing and play a
musical instrument at the same time while presenting offerings to the
god, representing the ethnic community to contact with the God and ask
him for things such as good health, bumper crops, happiness and a long
As a unique combination of music and song, Then singing
is traditionally accompanied by a handmade gourd lute, called Dan Tinh
or Tinh Tau.
The form of art plays an
important role in the spiritual life of Tay, Nung and Thai ethnic
people as it combines a wide range of arts such as literature, music,
painting and performance.
The art form has had
an impact on local and national identities through its influence on
literature, language, poetry, music, dance, rituals and spiritual
Closely linked with the spiritual
life of ethnic minority groups who often use ceremonial offerings to
treat illnesses, Then singing is seen as a therapy, together with
medicine, helping to ease the worries of patients and their families.
According to Phung Quang Muoi from the Lao Cai
provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, before 1991, Then
singing was banned as a kind of superstition, pushing the art into the
Since 1993, with its real values
recognised, Then singing has been gradually restored. However, the
number of people who can master this style of singing remains limited.
Presently, Tay people often organise Then
singing ceremonies with the aim to drive away bad luck, pray for good
crops and call back the soul of the death, he added.
The music encourages ethnic people who gather around the fire every
night after a hard working day in the fields to sing together
traditional Then songs.
It is really a
beautiful image to see Tay girls and boys in traditional clothes signing
with high and clear voices amid the imposing scene of mountains and
Writer Hoang Trieu An, who has spent
much time researching Then singing, said the art form creates a great
vitality in the spiritual life of Tay, Nung and Thai people, noting the
style of singing is a pride of the ethnic people.
At a time when Then singing artists are getting older and not many
young people show their love for the tradition, it is necessary to
diversify methods to preserve the singing.
Apart from collection and restoration of traditional Then songs,
relevant agencies should pay special attention to Then singing artists,
who can impart both Then singing skills and their passion for the art to
Many have suggested the
establishment of Then singing clubs and including the art form to the
school curriculum. It should be further promoted on mass media, helping
young people understand about the nation’s art heritage and raise their
responsibility for preserving and developing it.
In December 2012 , the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism added
Then singing to the official national intangible cultural heritage list.
The National Academy of Music said that
traditional Then singing will be submitted to UNESCO in a bid for it to
be recognised as a piece of intangible cultural world heritage.-VNA