“The lark raises its song.
The rice ripens season after season.
Rake in hand I work the fields.
The heavy grains pour joy into my heart.”
– from Visiting the Rice Field by Tram Huu Thung, 1925
“The azure sky spreads its embroidery and brocade,
The days and months take on the color of hope.
The sun pours quantities of love into our hearts.
Villagers fall asleep in the arms of rivers.
– by Contemporary poet Xuan Viet
“Transplant, weed, harvest, rest. Transplant, weed, harvest, rest.” This was the farmers’ rhythm of the seasons. Peasant life was difficult since the rice harvest depended on the vagaries of the monsoon season. There were festivals where people could relax and revel, but the possibility of hunger or starvation lurked constantly in the background.
For more than 1,000 years, village networks allowed villages to resist foreign invaders, like the Mongol armies in the 1200s.
A typical village’s boundaries were marked by an impenetrable bamboo hedge so thick the houses were hidden. A brick gate at the head and foot of the village was closed and locked at night. Stalls were set up under ancient trees where tea and cakes were sold. Inside the village gates, homesteads were built by individual extended families.
The villagers had a strong community life. They worked together to build and maintain the village fence, communal irrigation, and water systems.
Each village had an open structure called a communal house (dinh) that acted as a temple, a town hall, and a cultural center in addition to being the focus of village life. Also, a Confucian pagoda hosted ritual ceremonies in a secluded area and acted to strictly enforce customary moral laws. In contrast, the Buddhist pagoda was a peaceful haven where villagers could go to calm suffering and assuage sorrow and social injustices.
“The scholar comes first, and the farmer second.
But when the rice bag is empty,
The farmer is first, and the scholar second.”
– Vietnamese proverb
Vietnamese society in traditional villages was at its heart a matriarchal system honoring women. Women had key roles in sowing, transplanting and harvesting rice. Ancient Vietnamese defined land, water and sky as Mother Earth, Mother Water and Mother Sky. This evolved over the millennium to the worship of mother goddesses. Also, the village safeguarded a wealth of spiritual and artistic traditions. Mandarins and scholars retired to their home villages after their public service and shared their literary work.
– Huu Ngoc, Viet Nam: Tradition and Change
– Lady Borton, After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese
– Jonathan Schell, The Real War: Classic Reporting on the Vietnam War