A massive effort by villagers in the northern province of Phu Tho has not only rescued the ancient form of dinh (community hall) singing, but also guided the way for similar efforts to save other parts of Vietnamese culture.
Efforts will now be made to remove xoan singing from the UNESCO list of heritage in need of urgent protection, according to Ha Ke San, Vice-Chairman of the People’s Committee of the northern province of Phu Tho.
At present, the art form is on the shorter List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding – in other words, in danger of dying out.
It is hoped to move it to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, a list consisting of world culture that is endangered, but not on the brink of extinction.
San said it was preferable to place the ancient form of singing into the second list because it was now being promoted and broadcast widely throughout Phu Tho.
The province has financially supported training classes and activities, in addition to helping xoan singers directly helping to revive the ancient song form.
The province is backing the study, collection of xoan singing and intends to publish a book titled Hat Xoan Phu Tho (Phu Tho Xoan Singing).
Xoan is also being introduced to the school curriculum, along with projects to preserve and restore relics related to the art.
The province will soon submit a document to UNESCO proposing xoan singing be removed from the list of heritages in need of urgent protection.
According to Nguyen Ngoc An, head of the local department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the preservation and training of xoan singing is being popularised widely within the province.
At present, 13 districts have developed a total of 115 xoan clubs with nearly 1,300 members. The bulk of the members are from Kim Duc and Phuong Lau Communes where there are 23 clubs with nearly 1,148 members.
The department of Culture, Sports and Tourism has organised hundreds of performances to promote xoan singing. Using the mass media, these shows have been broadcast to domestic and international audiences.
The department has also collaborated with experts, musicians and researchers to collect, edit and publish thousands of CDs and more than 5,000 books about xoan singing. These are used as aids for teachers and students.
Phu Tho Department of Education has introduced xoan singing into all local schools to help following generations of children from the region understand their heritage and their obligation to preserve it.
Additionally, the province is working on giving the title of Distinguished Artisans title to 17 xoan singers.
Xoan singing is said to have appeared about 4,000 years ago, during the time of the Hung Kings. It usually took place at spring festivals in front of communal houses. For this reason, it is also called hat cua dinh (singing in front of the communal house).
Xoan singing was organised not only to entertain villagers and honour the founding Hung Kings of Vietnam, but also to pray for good weather and harvests, praise landscapes and depict daily life in rural areas.
Despite annual performances at the festival at the Hung Kings’ Temple, xoan singing was once at risk of dying out because members of the younger generations had never heard it.
The UNESCO listed xoan singing as part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in need of urgent protection in 2011.
This was good news for the people of Phu Tho province, the birthplace of a unique type of singing.
In 2013, Phu Tho People’s Committee built a 165 billion VND (7.85 million USD) project, entitled Maintaining and Developing Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – Xoan Singing in Phu Tho in 2013-2020 funded by the Government.-VNA