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Wednesday, 28 December 2016 20:38
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Promoting fine moral values of traditional beliefs in Red River Delta

(LLCT) - The system of beliefs in the Red River Delta is varied and diverse, ranging from those related to personal and familial lives to those related to the life of social communities, from those worshipping ancestors and meritorious co-villagers to those worshipping meritorious fellow countrymen, from those worshipping deities to those worshipping holy mothers, and so on. During their development, these beliefs have absorbed the cultural and moral values as well as customs and habits of the community, so they have managed to gain popularity among the community and have become storehouses of numerous moral values and fine traditions of the nation.

The Red River Delta is a large area located in the downstream region of the Red River in the North of Vietnam. It is home to 11 provinces and cities, Hanoi, Vinh Phuc, Bac Ninh, Ha Nam, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, Hai Phong, Thai Binh, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh, and Quang Ninh. The Delta is the cradle of the Red River civilization with distinctive culture, historical landmarks and Vietnamese tradition of founding and protecting their country. Scholar Dao Duy Anh stated, “Across the delta in Northern Vietnam, there is no acre of land which does not have traces of our ancestors’ laborious structures used to claim their rights to live facing nature”(1).

The system of beliefs in the Red River Delta is varied and diverse, ranging from those related to personal and familial lives to those related to the life of social communities, from those worshipping ancestors and meritorious co-villagers to those worshipping meritorious fellow countrymen, from those worshipping deities to those worshipping holy mothers, and so on. During their development, these beliefs have absorbed the cultural and moral values as well as customs and habits of the community, so they have managed to gain popularity among the community and have become storehouses of numerous moral values and fine traditions of the nation.

One of the outstanding moral values of the nation which has been preserved in traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta and is increasingly popular in daily lives is the tradition of “drinking water, remembering its source, and eating fruit, remembering its grower.” According to the traditional morality of the nation, anyone must take care of their living grandparents and parents and worship them when they are dead. The act of worshipping shows the gratitude of next generations and is a way to preserve traditions, transmit culture and educate younger generations on the path to humanity. Like people in other regions of Vietnam, people in the Red River Delta highly regard the worshipping of ancestors and consider it to be the path to humanity. According to statistics collected from five provinces and cities in the region including the capital of Hanoi, all families in urban and rural areas have ancestral altars(2). Because of the conception that the souls of the deceased are still around, home-based ancestral worship is carried out all year round. In addition to holding ceremonies on important occasions and festive days, people in the Red River Delta respectfully report their happiness and sorrows in their daily lives to their ancestors. Apart from worshipping their deceased grandparents and parents in their homes, people worship their ancestors in family temples or in the home of the head of their clan. During ancestral anniversaries or festive days, what is indispensable is that the head of the clan (or its representative) review the career and service of their ancestors to remind children and grandchildren of them, have a better understanding of them thus educating the youth to be mindful of their roots.

The Red River Delta is home to very well-organized villages. Each village has its own cultural and spiritual practices. However, they share common features of Vietnamese villages such as the presence of banyan trees, water wells and communal houses associated with cultural and religious activities and exquisite folk festivals. All villages in the Red River Delta still worship their village gods and tutelary saints, who are “gods and saints protecting and safeguarding the community”(3). Therefore, the practice of worshipping tutelary saints, in addition to satisfying people’s spiritual needs, upholds the tradition of “drinking water, remembering its source,” i.e. gratitude to those who founded their villages.

Traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta contain symbols of patriotism and national pride and self-reliance. The Red River Delta is home to a myriad of temples worshipping national heroes and people with devotions to the country. Some national heroes are installed as village tutelary saints, for example Tran Hung Dao, Ngo Quyen and Trung Sisters, who are worshipped at temples by the community. There are hundreds of temples dedicated to Tran Hung Dao alone, over 200 in Nam Dinh and Ha Nam, 40 in Thai Binh, nearly 80 in Hai Duong and Hung Yen, and over 50 in Hanoi(4). Many temples worshipping national heroes have become spiritual symbols of not only local inhabitants but also the entire nation. Every year these temples attract millions of pilgrims who come to pay their respects and pray for the well-being of themselves and their families, prosperity, good weather and peace for the people and country.

The worship of patriarchs of handicrafts and cultural celebrities in traditional beliefs shows and honors ancestors’ respect for teachers and morality, their hard work and their creativity.Besides wet rice growing, the inhabitants of the Red River Delta developed a great variety of handicrafts and established specialized craft villages. To express their gratitude to those who created and spread these crafts, people built shrines or worshipped them inside communal houses, temples or pagodas. Many patriarchs of handicrafts came from villages. They had to work hard to create a new craft or master its know-how and then reveal them to their families and villagers, thereby allowing it to thrive. Many of them served as senior mandarins. During their terms of office in a village, they helped to develop a particular craft. Some of them were scholars, for instance Tue Tinh and Hai Thuong Lan Ong, who are honored as the patriarchs of Vietnamese medicine.

The Red River Delta is a land of spiritual culture, and its inhabitants hold talents and intellectuals in high regard. Since ancient times, those who are academic achievers and those who help to spread knowledge and increase the educational standards of the population have received great respect. Many cultural celebrities, after they passed away, are worshipped at village communal houses or temples, where people come to pay their respects and express their pride therefore. A good number of historical and cultural sites are associated with cultural celebrities. For example, the temple dedicated to Chu Van An - The Teacher of Tens of Thousand of Generations - in Hai Duong, and the temple of Nguyen Trai in Con Son - Kiep Bac are always symbols of the traditions of spiritual culture and respect for teachers and morality. Therefore, cultural and moral values in the cult of worshipping cultural celebrities have become influential in the spiritual lives of people in these regions and the rest of the country.        

Traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta contain and promote the spirit of solidarity and foster the sense of community among its inhabitants. The Vietnamese in general and people in the Red River Delta in particular live closely with their community and hold connection between individuals, between families and between neighbors in high regard. Within families and clans, the sense of common roots and pride in familial traditions and the respect for, and worship of ancestors help to tighten the bonds between family members and strengthen their solidarity so they can lead better lives. Likewise, the worship of village tutelary saints, deities, gods and holy mother goddesses contributes to educating people on the “drinking water, remembering its source” morality so they develop a sense of community bond. What is special is that in traditional beliefs the object of worship itself is always a symbol of solidarity. Symbols in the cult of ancestral worship are common roots, in the family ancestors, in the entire country national founders Hung Kings, in the cult of worshipping village gods and village tutelary saints community bonds, in the cult of worshipping founding fathers of handicrafts joint efforts to overcome hardship, and in the cult of worshipping national heroes solidarity and brave sacrifice for communities and the nation. Although the cults may differ in terms of objects and forms of worship, they all provide spiritual support for people and meet their spiritual needs, bring together communities, establish bonds between individuals, families, clans and villages, and foster solidarity across the nation.

Traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta imply wishes to live in harmony with nature. In the distant past, during their movement from mountainous areas to the Red River Delta to conquer it, the Vietnamese created numerous beliefs closely associated with the characteristics of wet rice growers. Believing that everything had its soul, they considered natural phenomena with direct influences on their living and farming to be supernatural forces which needed to be worshipped so they would bring good weather and prevent natural disasters. Therefore, the cults of worshipping natural gods account for a very large proportion of traditional beliefs. The worship of water gods is widely common in the Red River Delta. Due to their demands for accessing and harnessing water, people in the Red River Delta began to worship river and water gods and pray for rain. It is especially noteworthy that the contact between local cults of worshipping gods and Buddhism gave rise to the cult of worshipping Four Goddesses (Cloud, Rain, Thunder and Lightning), which appreciate the water element and express people’s wishes to fight natural disasters such as storms, floods and droughts. In addition to worshipping natural gods, people in the Red River Delta carry out rituals dedicated to supernatural forces which decide reproduction. These rituals are also known as the cult of worshipping male and female sexual organs and sexual intercourse. Although this cult is not so common in the Red River Delta as in some ethnic minority areas, the philosophy of yin-yang harmony and respect for growth are still extant in many festivals.

Thus, it is affirmable that traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta contain numerous fine traditional moral values of the nation and that these values are still relevant to the cause of national construction in general and the laying of new moral foundations in particular.

However, besides fine traditional moral values, some backward practices, which are unsuitable for the building of new moral foundations, still exist in traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta. While various forms of beliefs are being restored, superstitions and outdated customs tend to revive and even to be on the rise. The abuse of beliefs for private interests has caused serious consequences for people’s wealth, health and even their lives.

To preserve and promote the fine moral values of traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta, it is necessary to address the following issues:

Firstly, the cultural and moral values of traditional beliefs in the Red River Delta should be examined, researched and systematized.First and foremost, there must be a full investigation into, research on, and systemization of, the traditional moral values preserved in different forms of beliefs currently present in the Red River Delta. On that basis, there must be an objective evaluation confirming which values are still relevant to the modern society and therefore need to be conserved and upheld, and which are obsolete or which may be twisted for private interests or which are superstitious and therefore need to be removed.

Secondly, it is necessary to intensify communication to increase the awareness of government officials, Party members and local inhabitants of the fine moral values of traditional beliefs and the significance of the preservation and promotion of these values in society.In fact, many people practice religious beliefs from force of habit; some even do it for their private interests by praying for wealth and office, etc, rather than paying attention to its cultural, moral and humane meanings. Quite a few government officials and party members in the political system are yet to have a deep understanding of traditional beliefs and are unable to distinguish genuine cultural values from superstitions or outdated customs or values which have been twisted or abused, which will make it very difficult to foster fine cultural and moral values underlying traditional beliefs. Therefore, Party committees and authorities at all levels need to increase communication so that government officials, party members and the public have a rightful understanding of fine, positive values of beliefs and get rid of outdated or irrelevant elements. Emphasis needs to be given to communication so that the public can distinguish between beliefs and “strange religions” recently emerging in several places in the Red River Delta. At the same time, communication should help government officials, party members and the public to understand clearly freedom of belief policies by the Party and State so they are increasingly aware of the need to preserve the positive values of beliefs and participate in the fight against activities which use beliefs for bad purposes. During such communication, besides highlighting the role of mass organizations, it is necessary to make full use of the role of the mass media to identify values and shape general opinion in the protection and promotion of fine moral values and criticism of illegal religious activities.

Thirdly, state management of religious activities should be intensified.As a matter of fact, it is fraught with issues caused by incomplete or inconsistent laws and the overlap between cultural and religious management bodies. Therefore, Party committees at all levels need to lead the preparation of regulations concerning coordination between bodies in charge of managing beliefs and religions and those responsible for managing culture. Such regulations should clearly define the responsibilities of these bodies, avoid overlap between, or “vacuum” of, tasks and ensure religious activities abide by the law and conform to civilized, modern ways of life.

Fourthly, the role of those who are directly engaged in organizing the practice of traditional beliefs must be emphasized.Although traditional beliefs are not so tightly organized as religions, there are always people who directly organize and guide their practice in communities. These people are often volunteers or those assigned by communities to manage worshipping facilities and organize rituals and festivals on their behalf. They play an important role in maintaining and orienting the practice of beliefs. Therefore, Party committees and authorities at all levels need to pay attention to these people and encourage them to follow the Party’s guidelines and the State’s policies and laws on beliefs and the preservation and promotion of beliefs as cultural heritage.

Finally, the preservation and promotion of fine moral values of beliefs need to be integrated into socio-economic development programs, patriotic movements and grassroots-level cultural movements. Local Party committees and authorities need to include the preservation and promotion of fine moral values of beliefs in their programs for building new rural areas and their tourism development plans. “The entire people unite to build cultural lives in residential areas” movement in localities where there are places of worship needs to make the cultivated practice of beliefs a criteria for identifying cultured families, villages and neighborhoods. Also, the cultivated practice of beliefs needs to be included in communal charters or regulations concerning the organization of belief-related festivals to increase people’s sense of responsibility for the preservation and promotion of fine moral values of traditional beliefs and contribute to increasingly richer and better spiritual lives.

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(1) Dao Duy Anh: Vietnamese culture and history, Culture and Information Publishing House, Hanoi, 2002, p. 7.

(2), (3), (4) See Ngo Duc Thinh (Chief editor): Beliefs and the culture of beliefs in Vietnam, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001, pp. 84, 113, 224.

References:

1. Dao Duy Anh: Vietnamese culture and history, Culture and Information Publishing House, Hanoi, 2002

2. Toan Anh: Vietnamese Ccustoms (Ancestral worship), Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 1991

3. Modern Vietnamese village communities, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001

4. CPV: Documents of the 7th Conference of the 9th Central Executive Committee, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2003

5. Nguyen Dang Duy: Forms of beliefs and religions in Vietnam, Culture and Information Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001

6. Questions and answers on Vietnamese culture, National Culture Publishing House, the Culture and Art magazine, Hanoi, 1998

7. Ngo Duc Thinh (Chief editor): Beliefs and the culture of beliefs in Vietnam, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001

8. Luong Thi Thoa (Chief editor): The cult of worshipping cancestors in some countries and Vietnam (Reference book), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2015

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Le Van Loi

Department of Science Management

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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