Culture, Multiculture, On Stage, Our People

Puppets dancing on water

This water art, linked to the age-old tradition of the rice harvest, represents a special display of Vietnamese culture that reflects the simple, work lifestyle of the Vietnamese.


marioneras puppets wikipediaDuong Bui


Starting from the placing of mobile wooden figures to scare off demons and disasters, the first performances of the water puppets emerged in the 11th century.

That popular art called “the soul of the rice fields” by the French spread in rural areas to celebrate good harvests.

Thanks to the creativity of the puppeteers, those displays evolved from a recreational activity in small communities to a unique representation of national folk culture.

Traditionally, the scenes take place on small lakes or lagoons, on whose banks remains a small theatre, made of bamboo or wood from the water because water is the primordial and vital element for the existence of life.

The stage represents rice fields, communal houses for meetings, popular festivals and temples dedicated to gods and ancestors.

Behind the curtain, the puppeteers with water up to their waists make the puppets move through the use of sets of ropes, poles or rods.

The secret of puppet handling implies a special technique passed on from generation to generation among the families of the Vietnamese artists.

The skill transforms the rigid puppets into various characters that represent daily rural life, old stories, legends, re-enacted proverbs, satirical pieces and classical dramas.

Despite the limited stage, the artists manage to make the audience enter a magical world coloured by Amazons who ride fish, dragons who breathe out fire and water, horse battles and fairy dances.

One of the standout elements of the displays includes live music performed on traditional Vietnamese instruments and songs with popular words and tunes.

The plays usually start with the clown Teu, a recognised character in Vietnamese folk tales.

The drum, the flute, the single-stringed zither, the six-stringed zither and the sound of the firecrackers, commonly used in traditional Vietnamese music, also feature among the attractions of the show. The rhythm of the music in combination with the graceful movements of the puppets is unique in this type of theatre.

The plays combine visual effects and the melody of the background music with minimum dialogue.

The water puppets have gone on to be an international attraction and with them has spread Vietnamese cultural identity based on ties through mother earth, nature, work and happiness. (PL) (Photos: Wikipedia and Pixabay)

(Translated by Claire Donneky – Email:

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