Culture Culture

23/01/2018 - 09:13

Bamboo swing: from village to town

In early 2012, Thua Thien Hue organized a program themed "Ancient Hue - New Experiences", preceding a series of events in line with the national tourism policy entitled "National Tourism Year 2012 - Northern and Central Coastal Region - Hue ".

Bamboo swing competition, a traditional custom from Gia Vien village, Phong Hien commune, Phong Dien district was on the program, marking its first time ever to be "in town".

Gia Vien bamboo swing in motion

Annually, it is customary for Gia Vien Village to host a bamboo swing competition on the 4th of January (according to the lunar calendar). The preparation normally starts from the 20th of the previous month, with the purchase of bamboo canes assigned to a group of people. In order to build the frame of the swing, they must find big and straight Golden bamboo canes, of at least ten meters in length, free of flaws. There should be six big bamboo canes for the pillars of the frame, and a bigger cane for the swing beam. The "swing ropes" are made of thinner bamboo canes, with wooden hangers mounted to the swing beam at one end and wooden pedals at the other end. Both the hangers and pedals are made of fine, durable and crackless wood. Once the bamboo canes have been bought, they are cut at both ends to make sure the number of internodes of each cane is a multiple of 5 (which stands for "birth", in the endless circle of birth, aging, illness and death - the four sufferings believed to be experienced by every human in Buddhism)

Around the 24th or 25th of December, the villagers put up the bamboo swing frame on the Swing hillock, about which they have to perform a ritual to report to the land gods, the village guardians and the village founding fathers. On New Year's Eve, just before midnight, after the ritual is over, the "swing ropes" are put in place. On the fourth of January, everyone - the village and commune authority figures, the organizing team, men and women, the young and the old - gathers on the hillock. Then, the bamboo swing frame and the flag attached to a stick mounted to the frame are double-checked. During the game, in order to win a prize, the participants need to spring up high to touch the flag.

Before the competition begins, another worship ritual takes place. The man who is in charge of performing the ritual is a village elderly who has a lot of experience with the game and serves as the competition chairman. After the prayers are over, he proclaims the start of the game. Anyone, regardless of where they come from, the village or elsewhere, can take part in the game.

The number of prizes varies, depending on the budget of the village and the donations made by philanthropists, but there are normally five to seven prizes. There is a "worship prize", awarded by a village dignitary. The first, second, third, etc. prizes are awarded by local authority figures or philanthropists. The special prize, awarded by the competition chairman, is for the one who manages to grab the flag.   

Right after the competition, the man in charge of the competition performs a ritual to express gratitude to the gods, after which he lifts an axe up to his eyebrows and bows, then he cuts off the "swing ropes" to signal the end of the game. The villagers believe that the bamboo swing competition brings about prosperity and fertile crops. Therefore, during wartime and in impoverished years, when the village could not host the competition, they still put up a miniature bamboo swing frame and performed the same rituals as in a real game. The bamboo swing custom in Gia Vien village serves as a worship ritual for a new growing season - the winter-spring rice crop.

Being informed about the inclusion of the village bamboo swing in the tourism program held by the province, the villagers were overwhelmed with joy. On the 4th of January (Lunar calendar), after the competition was over at the village, they took down the bamboo swing frame to transport it to the venue in Hue. The bamboo swing frame needed to be put up by the 8th of January (Lunar calendar).

On the 8th of January, the village elderly, in national costumes, simulated the rituals of the event. Participants in the game came from Gia Vien village, other places in the province, as well as from the neighboring province of Quang Tri. The bamboo swing competition was a success, creating a lot of excitement and attracting a large turnout.

Story and photo: Nguyen The