UN recognition for Mother Goddesses belief: a source of pride for Vietnam

Tuesday - 28/05/2019 11:05
The UNESCO acknowledgement for the traditional practices related to the Vietnamese people’s belief in the Mother Goddesses of the Three Realms, which has recently been inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity, has brought a source of pride to the Vietnamese people, remarked Tran Thi Hoang Mai, Deputy Director-General of Vietnam National Committee for UNESCO (UNESCO Vietnam) to the press after the recognition was announced.

Question: Can you please tell us why Vietnam chose the religious practices, notably the 'hau dong' or mediumship ritual, in honour of the Mother Goddesses to submit to the UNESCO for recognition?

Deputy Director-General Tran Thi Hoang Mai:

The belief of the Mother Goddess of the Three Realms worship by the Vietnamese embraces unique cultural values. First, it is a religious practice with distinguished indigenous features. Many other countries worship Mother Goddesses but in Vietnam, the worship is practiced not only for the reverence of female gods in general, such as Mother of the Mountains, Mother of Water and Mother of the Forests, but also in commemoration of historical and cultural figures in particular. Thus, it reflects the country’s history as well as its cultural traditions.

Secondly, practices during the worshipping, such as hymns, lively dances and colourful costumes, tell a lot about Vietnamese culture; the ritual can be considered as a living relic of Vietnamese culture, Vietnamese lifestyle, as well as the daily lives and aspirations of the Vietnamese people. The dances and performing arts as well as the architectural and decorations at temples where the ritual practices take place have also been imbued with Vietnamese indigenous identities and have been handed down from generation to generation.

Last but not least, the practices originated in various regions of the country and embrace many different cultures among the different ethnic groups, which helps strengthen solidarity among Vietnamese ethnic groups while reflecting the country’s cultural diversity as well as cultural exchanges between the different communities.

Why is the UNESCO recognition for the practices important to Vietnam, in your opinion?

The recognition brings a source of pride to the Vietnamese people, particularly, cultural experts and managers, and the practicing community, who have maintained and promoted the practice for generations. It will help raise public awareness and understanding of Mother Goddess worshipping, thus encouraging them to take responsibility in safeguarding the heritage.

Once our heritage is honoured, UNESCO will keep a close watch on how we safeguard the heritage. Thus the acknowledgement is important to the preservation and awareness raised about the value of the heritage as it will motivate us to design detailed action plans and exert more efforts to fulfil our commitments to UNESCO..

The title also helped lift Vietnam’s position as the country has gained a number of UNESCO accolades for its heritages so far.

What has UNESCO Vietnam done to promote the value of the religious practice to the world?

During the compilation of the dossier, UNESCO Vietnam and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched many campaigns to advertise the practices at home and abroad. We invited diplomatic corps to Nam Dinh to explore the practice via first-hand experience. Recently, we brought some practitioners to Malaysia to introduce the heritage to Overseas Vietnamese communities as well as local people there.

In the coming time, we will organise more abroad tours for practitioners so that the Vietnamese practice will reach more international friends.

Thank you so much for the interview!

The Beliefs in the Mother Goddesses of Three Realms - Heaven, Water, Mountains and Forests - has been practiced in numerous northern mountainous provinces across the nation since the 16th century. The tradition involves daily worship, ceremonies, rituals and festivals.

Bearers and practitioners are members of the public, which include temple guardians, ritual priests, spirit mediums, assistants and musicians who transmit knowledge and skills orally to newcomers and family members. The practice of shared values and strong beliefs in the compassion and grace of the Mother Goddesses provides a basis for social relations connecting the community and maintaining an aspect of its cultural heritage. The worshipping of the Mother Goddesses also contributes to the appreciation of women and their roles in society.

The practice is the ninth heritage of Vietnam to be inscribed on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity, together with Nha Nhac (Vietnamese royal court music), Gong culture in the Central Highlands, Quan Ho (love duets) in Bac Ninh, the Giong festival of Phu Dong and Soc temples, Hung King worshipping rituals in Phu Tho, Art of ‘Don Ca Tai Tu’ music and song in southern Vietnam, Vi and Giamfolk songs of Nghe An and Ha Tinh, and Tug-Of-War rituals and games.

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