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Vietnam Customs


Vietnam's customs are very multiform and plentiful in each period of time from the past until now. Each of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam has its distinct custom with many different traditional costumes and liturgies. But, they all contribute to a diverse customs of a big family - Vietnamese nation. "Ao dai" which is considered as the traditional costume of Vietnam and makes deep impression for tourists coming to Vietnam was emerged in 18th century. Social relationships in Vietnam are very complicated and strict as Oriental culture originally and influences of Confucianism in Chinese domination period. They now are less strict than in the past but most of these cultural values have been maintained. Along historical period, languages used in Vietnam have been changed to suit with administration and times. After gained independence for the country in 1945, the National language - alphabet Vietnamese was recognized as official language of Vietnam.

1: Vietnam Costumes

In the feudal era of Vietnam's history, it had strict rules on costumes. Costumes in Vietnam are very diverse and show social hierarchy. Clothes of normal civilians were simple and even trivial in brown or black. Mandarins and royal family wore much more sophisticated and luxurious ones. Particularly, the Kings wore special coats in golden - the color symbolizes for power and nobility.

In around 12th century, Vietnamese women wore “ao tu than” (four-panel traditional dress). “Ao tu than” consists of four panels in same or different colors (usually in brown, black, pink or light green). The dress goes with a bright pink or white “yem”, a “non quai thao” (“quai thao” traditional hat), a “khan mo qua” (crow’s beak kerchief) and “guoc moc” (wooden clogs). It had been most common in Northern Vietnam till 20th century. Nowadays, “ao tu than” is only used in special occasions such as wedding, traditional festivals, etc.

Since 18th century, Vietnamese peasants have worn “ao ba ba” (so-called “ao canh” in the North). “Ao ba ba” has a simple and versatile design which looks like a pajama. The shirt has long sleeves, buttons and two split flaps at the front. That costume is made of silk and can be any color (usually in white, black or brown). “Ao ba ba” is combined with a silk pant in black or same color with the shirt and “guoc moc”. In Northern Vietnam, women wear “khan mo qua” when using that costume and men combine it with a piece of cloth wrapped around their head. “Ao ba ba” was not only worn by peasants but also popular in the cities. At present, it’s still preferred by a part of Vietnamese with many stylized designs.

Also in 18th century, “ao dai” (Vietnamese long dress) emerged and was widely worn by both men and women. The dress covers the body from neck to knees and is split from the waist down. For female, “ao dai” is made from soft and colorful textile with many colors depending on the user’s age and preference. Moreover, they also wear “ao dai” with “non la” (leaf hat) or “khan dong” on the heads. For male, “ao dai” is simple designed and usually in black or purple. As its elegant beauty, “ao dai” is still very popular now in schools, offices and special occasions (wedding, festivals, etc). Furthermore, “ao dai” is considered as traditional costume of Vietnam and makes deep impression for tourists coming to Vietnam.

Beside these mentioned costumes, each of 54-ethnic community of Vietnam has their unique costumes which contributes a colorful puzzle to Vietnamese culture. Coming to Vietnam, travelers can catch a Thai in brocade, and many other ethnic groups in their traditional clothes.

2: Vietnam Social Relationships

Social relationships in Vietnam are very complicated and strict as Oriental culture originally and influences of Confucianism in Chinese domination period. They now are less strict than in the past but most of these cultural values have been maintained. In a Vietnamese family, family's structure is patriarchy with the highest power in the hands of the oldest male.

In Vietnam, there may have several generations living together in a house as one family. Even when gender equality policy is implemented in practice, he still plays the role of a pillar in family. He has the ears of all family’s members and takes responsibility for almost businesses in family. Vice versa, the younger generation has to show their respect and gratitude to the older ones, especially their grandparents and parents. Thus, in Vietnam, members of a family have close relationships with each others, and are always glad to help another get out of trouble.

Vietnamese people always give care to the relationship with their neighbors as an old idiom: “A stranger nearby is better than a far-away relative”. At the time of emergence or holding wedding, funeral ceremonies, neighbors will be right there to help you, share the feeling of happy or sadness with you as a close friend, a close relative.

Besides, Vietnamese people always treat their friends with warm sentimentsas family’s members. For Vietnamese, friendship is a precious relationship because friend is the person you need when facing a trouble as well as the person you can trust and have his/her sympathy.

In Vietnamese society, teachers represent to knowledge and thus, they have high social status and respect of everybody. Yearly, Vietnamese teacher’s dayis celebrated on November 20th and it’s an occasion that students at all ages can honor and express deep gratitude to their respectable teachers. Also at that time, they usually give their teachers best wishes, flowers, and gifts.

Ideas about love in Vietnam are very different in compare with those in Western countries. In Vietnam, love is business of not only a couplebut also their two families. Although arranged marriage is no longer common in Vietnam, the voice of family’s members is still important to relationship of the two. Significantly, having pre-marital sex is not allowed by social conventions.

3: Vietnam Language

Along historical period, languages used in Vietnam have been changed to suit with administration and times. Officially, Chinese, Nom language, and alphabet Vietnamese are respectively used in communication and administration.

In around 1st century BC, after a vast invasion, Vietnam wasset under brutal Chinese domination. For about 1,000 years, aiming at turning Vietnamese people into Chinese people actually, classical Chinese language (so-called “Han” language or “Nho” language) had been used in school and government. When the Dark Age of Chinese domination ended, classical Chinese language had still remained its dominant position and become official language of Vietnamese royal court and mandarin examinations. Several important works in history and science by Confucian scholarswere documented in classical Chinese language such as “Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu” (Complete Annals of Great Viet) by scholar Le Van Huu, “Du Dia Chi” by scholar Nguyen Trai, etc. In 1070, Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam (the Temple of Literature) was built as a place to worship Confucius as well as teach Confucianism. Under the Later Le Dynasty (1428 - 1527), Confucianism reached the peak of prosperous period.

At the beginning of independent feudal era of Vietnam, Nom language (in Vietnamese: “Chu Nom”) emerged. Nom language was created by purely recording Vietnamese but borrowing some characters of Han language. Thus, Nom language is significantly influenced by Han language in script and literary style sector. It was not until 15th century that literature in Nom language flourished with many historic works such as “Quoc am thi tap” by scholar Nguyen Trai, “Hong Duc Quoc am thi tap” by King Le Thanh Tong, “Tale of Kieu” by poet Nguyen Du, and various Nom poems by poet Ho Xuan Huong, Doan Thi Diem, etc. Although Nom language had been used along with Han language for a long period, it hadn’t had the position of official language of the country. The exceptions are the short time of Ho Dynasty (15th century) and Tay Son Dynasty (18th century). At that time, all administrative documents were required to be written in Nom language.

In around 16th century, the first Western clergymen came to Vietnam to evangelize. In demand of communicating with Vietnamese people, they learned Vietnamese and recorded it in Latin characters. The inceptive version of National language (so-called Vietnamese language) was formed and recorded in the dictionary “Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum” published in 1651 by Mr. Alexandre de Rhodes, who was a French clergyman. Till 19th century, National language has been fully developed and widely disseminated. However, at that time, French was official language in schools and administration as French Protectorate. In the late 19th century, French administration formally used National language in administrative documents and education. In 20th century, National language was used by Vietnamese intellectuals to propagate patriotic and anti-colonial ideas. Variety of books and newspapers were published in National language. Besides, many literary works (including poems and novels) were also written in National language by Tu Luc Van Doan’s members and other writers. After gained independence for the country in 1945, government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam also recognized National language as official language of Vietnam.

4: Vietnam Traditional liturgies

Different people, different identity! That is also true in Vietnam - a community of 54 ethnic groups. Each of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam has its distinct custom with many different traditional liturgies. But, they all contribute to a diverse customs of a big family - Vietnamese nation.

Among variety of traditional liturgies, ancestor worship is one of the most long-standing liturgies in Vietnam. In Vietnamese people’s point of view, death is just physical; souls of the dead still exist and follow their children. By practicing liturgy of worship, living people express respect to their ancestor. In the house of Vietnamese people, it’s easy to see an ancestor altar as it’s usually arranged right in the middle of the house and is the most solemn place. On 1st and 15th of every lunar month, Vietnamese people incense to pray for their dead parents or grandparents and wish their ancestor could bless them with health and lucky. Moreover, Vietnamese people also worship their ancestor in important occasions such as New Year’s Day, the dead day of the ancestor, celebration of new house, the day a baby born, etc. In the last day of a year, Vietnamese always visit ancestor’s graves to incense and invite their ancestor to come back home and welcome a new year with family.

Besides, funeral ceremony is also a solemn traditional liturgy in Vietnam. Funeral ceremony in Vietnam has been influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism for a long period in history. This is also the occasion that children do the final filial duty for their parent or grandparent, who is at the last moment of lifetime. The dead body will be washed and dressed new clothes. Monks are invited to the house to hold funeral rites and pray for soul of the dead person will rest in peace. After the rites, the dead body will be put into a coffin. Children, grandchildren, relatives, friends and neighbors of the dead will visit him/her in sadness for the last time before procession rite takes place to bring him/her to the final resting place. One year later, all members of family, friends of the dead and neighbors will gather to remember the dead day of the person that has gone away.

About wedding ceremony, after a betrothal ceremony which was held sometime before, wedding ceremony takes place. At the beginning of the ceremony, groom’s family and relatives come to bride’s house with many wedding presents. They will be welcomed by representatives of bride’s family. Then, representative of groom’s family will politely ask bride’s family if they allow groom to get married with his bride. After having the permission, master of the wedding ceremony will pronounce groom and bride become husband and wife. Parents of bride will remind her about responsibility of a wife before she gets in marriage. Then, both bride and groom will receive gifts (like golden bracelets, ear rings, necklace, etc.) from their parents. Guests who are invited to wedding ceremony will give some money to just-married couple as congratulation and best wishes for their happiness. A wedding party is also held with participant of many people. At modern wedding ceremonies, brides usually wear wedding dress and grooms wear suit instead of traditional costume of “ao dai”. The rite of exchanging wedding rings is also performed at the ceremony.


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