Cultural Context and History:
Puppetry came to Vietnam in the 11th century, just as Japan. Like many Asian cultures, puppetry is practiced not just by artists, but by local people (often farmers or other tradespersons) who have studied the craft for many years. This differs greatly from Western society, where more often than not there appears to be a great divide between people who identify as farmers or tradespeople, and those who make their living as artists.
Materials and Construction:
- Puppets are made with wood and then are lacquered so that they will be watertight and durable
- Specifically they are constructed out of fig wood, which is dried for months before it is prepared to be processed and ready to be carved.
- separate pieces are carved out (tails, arms, legs, heads and hands) to make the puppet mobile. These individual pieces are then nailed together to create a mobile puppet which is controlled by rods and string
Historically, all water puppetry was performed in ponds which would be surrounded by trees and other greenery to provide shade and comfort to audience members. Now, water puppetry is typically performed in indoor pools, with water filled to waist high.
- Some Vietnamese puppeteers have been performing in a long lineage of ancestors that have been practicing the art of water puppetry.
- Historically the craft was passed down to sons and their wives, but currently all people, regardless of gender are able to study the historical art of creating water puppets
Examples of Vietnamese Water Puppets:
Vietnam Discovery Video
In this travel documentary, a French tourist named Matt is able to explore a rural area of Vietnam called Dao Thuc. In Dao Thuc, a small troupe of Vietnamese water puppeteers have been performing shows for over 200 years. He gets to experiment with carving a puppet, and then trying to manipulate a puppet in a traditional water puppetry stage: a pond full of water.