Vietnamese Water Puppet

If you are ever in Hanoi, Water Puppet is one of the arts you should not miss- even you think you are not a puppet kind of person. “Puppets that dance on the water” is the literally of the Water Puppets.


Vietnamese Water Puppet originated from the Red River Delta of Vietnam in the tenth century. The earliest troupes are in Nguyen Xa commune, Dong Hung district, Thai Binh province. The cultural characteristic of the local people are showed in the Water puppetry. Around the 15th century, this unique art first appeared, the artists who were also farmers would gather to perform and relax in post-harvest. Today the custom still exit in many localities in the Red River Delta as Dao Thuc, Phu Da, Dong Ca, Nguyen Xa, Dong Ngu, Nhan Hoa and Nam Chan.

In ancient Vietnam, the rural Vietnamese think that all aspects of their life are controlled by spirits.  That is the reason why the farmers in this region devised a form of entertainment and worship to satisfy these spirits.  Water puppet is the lively creation of farmers. They found out that the water was an excellent way for puppetry because the puppeteers’ rod could be concealed and exciting effects as waves and splashes could be provided.

So far this art form has been unique to North Vietnam.  Nowadays, the water puppet is showed at Thang Long Puppet Theater all days in a week.


Performers in Vietnamese Water Puppet Theater’s feet have always suffered in cold and wet condition. The Water puppetry is performed in a chest-deep pool of water, with the water’s surface as a stage. Behind a screen, the puppeteers stand uses long bamboo rods with string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface to control the puppet.

Wood is main material to carve these puppets and often weighs up to 15 kg. The puppets move on the water. From either side of the stage or under the depth of the water, the puppets are entered.

Background music accompaniment is provided by traditional Vietnamese orchestra.  A story acted out by the puppets is sung by singers of Cheo (a form of opera) with origin in North Vietnam.  A pig- tailed bumpkin known as Teu is often introduced in performances up to 18 short scenes, and accompanied by a small folk orchestra. In the performance the musicians and the puppets interact; a word of warning in danger or encourage to a puppet is yelled by the musicians.

The stage is set for each particular; style of the water puppetry is created by traditional musical instruments like drums, wooden bells, cymbals, horns, two-string Chinese violins and flutes.


In the Vietnamese folklore, the theme of the skits is rural has been a strong referred. Puppeteers’ theme: day-to-day village life is provided with the best settings in the water.  Buffalo fights and children’s games of marbles and coin-toss are showed in water puppets. Besides village life, these legends and national history are showed in these scenes.   Teu often plays the role of introducing the performances. The festival atmosphere is created by the spotlights and colorful flags on the stage.

Annually, Lunar March 13, Bo Duong village’s festival is a chance for villagers to relax and take part in many activities as fireworks displays, flying kites and cock-fighting contests.  The festival always attracts thousands of attendants.

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