The Mother Goddess religion

On the occasion of the preparation of a dossier to submit to UNESCO for its recognition of the Chau van (spirit medium ritual) as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, Vietnam Pictorial had an interview with Professor Ngo Duc Thinh, a leading expert in the Mother Goddess religion in Vietnam.



hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

Professor Ngo Duc Thinh.



The issue of the Chau van (also known as Hau dong) ritual which is the religious practice of the Mother Goddess religion has drawn much attention of the public, especially when this religion has just been recognized as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Furthermore, a dossier has been submitted to UNESCO for its recognition of this religion as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As a researcher who has devoted almost your whole life to studying the Mother Goddess religion, will you please introduce the greatest values of this pure Vietnamese folk belief?

The Mother Goddess religion has four issues, which are associated with the community. Firstly, it considers nature as the mother and worships her. Secondly, it brings to people living in this world three things: Happiness, Prosperity and Longevity. These are the eternal wishes of humans. Thirdly, it clearly reflects patriotism which has become the people’s spirit and belief.

This is shown by the fact that almost 50 genies worshipped by the Mother Goddess religion are historical celebrities who have rendered great services to the nation, such as Tran Hung Dao worshipped as Tran Genie. Fourthly, the Mother Goddess religion is a multi-cultural belief.

This is the sole significance because it exists only in Vietnamese belief. Of these 50 genies, over ten genies are from ethnic minorities, showing that from the early time the Vietnamese people were aware of cultural integration.

The Mother Goddess religion is fair to everybody, regardless of ethnicity, majority or minority, and is willing to open the door to receive multi-cultures. This is the issue of mankind that the whole world is calling for.

In terms of beliefs and spirituality, it’s karma for people to go to the Holy Mother’s door. Where does your karma of going to the Mother Goddess religion come from?

My native land is in Nam Dinh where there are many pagodas, temples and shrines. When I was young I used to go to the pagodas to watch elderly women performing trance singing and dancing and receive a gift from them. The gift was only a string of five jujubes, not as abundant as the gifts today.

When I grew up I still had a question: “Why does the spirit medium ritual still exist although it was prohibited by the State for a period of time?”. The work I am doing now is to find an answer for this question. For a cultural researcher like me, such a question can take a whole life to find an answer. In my opinion, there is always a reason for the birth of a thing and it is impossible to prohibit the demands.

In your opinion, what must be done to preserve and promote the highest cultural values of this religion?

The problem is where the culture and belief of the spirit medium ritual comes from. It comes from the people. Therefore, a very important principle in the preservation and conservation of the national cultural heritage is that the work must rely on the community. The cultural subject must be assigned to the community who are also provided with knowledge and responsibilities.

According to preliminary statistics, the whole country now has over 7,000 temples and shrines, excluding private shrines. I still remember that in an international seminar on the Mother Goddess religion, a person from the Vietnam National Commission for UNESCO said: “The prohibition of this ritual was a disgrace to the national cultural heritage of Vietnam”.

Having devoted my whole life to the Mother Goddess religion I am confident and think that this religion with the spirit medium ritual of Vietnam is a belief which typifies the position and heart of the Vietnamese people.

The spirit medium ritual is simply known as a performance based on the use of music with spiritual identity and refined lyrics together with the solemn rites and forms of dances. It is believed that this ritual can help people communicate with the deities via the mediums.

Professor Ngo Duc Thinh was born in 1944. He was formerly Director of the Vietnam Institute of Cultural Studies. Now, he is Director of the Vietnam Centre for Research and Conservation of Culture and Belief (http://daomauvietnam.com), member of the National Council for Cultural Heritage and Vice Chairman of the Asian Folklore Council.



hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

 Prof. Ngo Duc Thinh on Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day.

 hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

Prof. Ngo Duc Thinh presents flowers to a delegate on Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day.

 hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

Prof. Ngo Duc Thinh talks with old friends.

 hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

Professor Ngo Duc Thinh introduces a delegate to rites of a Hau dong performance.

 hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

A Hau dong performance.

 hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess 

hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

Some scenes at a Hau dong performance on Vietnam Cultural Heritage Day.

hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess

The band of musicians at Hau dong performance.


Source: VNP

hau dong, chau van, unesco, heritage, mother goddess
 
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