28/12/2015 09:06 GMT+7 Email Print Like 0

Preserver of the Tay’s Then Songs

Before breathing his last breath, artisan Ha Phan bequeathed to his younger brother, Ha Thuan, three thick notebooks recording ancient Then tunes, with his recommendations: “ These are valuable treasures, the soul of our Tay people, try to preserve them...”. Always with his elder brother’s advice deeply engraved in his mind, artisan Ha Thuan has day and night worked for the preservation and promotion of ancient  Then tunes of the Tay’s  forefathers. 
Under the directions of people in Tan An Commune, Chiem Hoa District, Tuyen Quang Province, we came to one of the most ancient and largest houses on stilts in the region to meet Ha Thuan. At twilight in the highland region, he met us with an ancient Then tune – “Cung Ve Sau” (Chirping of Cicadas), then told us many stories about ancient Then tunes of the Tay in his native land.

Formerly, he said, Then tunes were performed mainly by sorcerers during rites held for families in the hamlet. When young, he used to follow the elderly people to such rituals and he did not know when Then tunes had been absorbed in him. At the age of twelve, he knew how to sing Then and with the help of his elder brother year after year, he now can sing almost all Then tunes.

He travelled from hamlet to hamlet, asking old people for their collection of Then tunes. As Then songs were largely handed down orally, the lyrics were neither accurate nor intact. He brought home lyrics recorded from the memories of the elderly people and rearranged and adjusted them into complete ones, which were later brought to the elderly people for examination of their accuracy before they were carefully noted down for archiving.

Ha Thuan is the first Tay with the title of folk artisan.

Ha Thuan performs “ Cung Ve Sau”  at the 5th Tay, Nung and Thai ethnic minorities
“Then- Dan tinh” festival organised in Tuyen Quang.

Ha Thuan not only collects ancient Then songs but also composes Then with new lyrics.

Ha Thuan makes great contributions to teaching and disseminating Then tunes to various hamlets.

With his burning love for Then tunes, Ha Thuan contributes to the socialization of Then singing.

Ha Thuan and his children and grandchildren perform Then and Dan tinh.

Children and grandchildren of Ha Thuan are good Then singers and have won many prizes at various Then festivals.

On festival and harvest days, members of Ha Thuan’s family gather together like a Then club.  .

Then singing is a type of folk music of Tay, Nung and Thai ethnic groups with creed colours, narrating human’s journeys to heaven, praying for good things in the earthly world.

In parallel with the  Then collection and composition, Ha Thuan started passing Then tunes to other people, first to members of his family. After a short period, all of his six children and grandchildren knew how to sing Then songs, including the most difficult ones. Therefore, on festival days, his home becomes a “then” club of the hamlet.

Good fortune has its wings, spreading far and wide. People in various hamlets inside and outside Chiem Hoa District rushed to his house, asking to be taught  Then tunes. Ha Thuan could not remember how many people he taught Then tunes to, he only knew that his house was always crowded with people.

Later, his students returned to their native places, setting up mass Then clubs for passage of Then tunes to younger generations. In 2007, the Culture, Sports and Tourism Department of Tuyen Quang Province invited Ha Thuan to teach Then at the first Then class. From then on, once a year, he is invited to give lessons at a new Then course opened in the province.

Asked about his motives for the collection and passage of ancient Then tunes, Ha Thuan poured out  his heart: “ For Tay people, life without Then is just like birds without singing, green trees without leaves and flowers, or fish without rivers and streams. Then is the bridge linking the spiritual world with earthly people,  heaven with life on earth. So, my only desire is that as many people as possible can sing and love Then tunes. That is a thread of love, a thread of duty, binding people together for a peaceful and happy life, for a good family and hamlet traditions”.

Story: Thao Vy - Photos: Trinh Van Bo