Cái Thị Vượng - Quảng Trị Museum
Bài chòi is a folk cultural activity, an unique and precious spiritual product born long time ago in the central of Central Coast where Quảng Trị is located. Before 1945, there were a kind of entertainment in Tet festival called bài tới play. Bài tới was mainly played by middle-aged and older women on mats within a family. Bài tới play was then enlarged in scale and adopted changes in rules. After that, some villages held Bài chòi, cờ chòi festival in which bài tới was played with chairs then replaced by cabins on the communal house’s courtyard, market yard or wide ground near main road. The festival was attended by people of all ages in the community. Thence, Bài chòi became the truly festival of the village community and was called Bài chòi by the folk.
Since then Bài chòi has been the wholesome folk play, which strongly fascinates the public especially common people, laboring class in localities and become an indispensable food for thought of people in Quảng Trị and other provinces in the Central. Hence, what make Quảng Trị people passionate Bài chòi so much? Besides the features and cultural value of Bài chòi itself, the unique art in Bài chòi Quảng Trị is what we suppose the attraction.
1. Basic features in folk festival Bài chòi Quảng Trị
Bài chòi is a common wholesome folk play, which is artistic and entertaining. It is an elegant pastime attracting people of all ages including local elderly, children, adolescent and visitors. They come to try fortune in early new year and it does not matter they win or lose any longer. Since then, wherever Bài chòi festival is held, many people come to not only play but also enjoy the talent of card shower and announcer. Hence, Bài chòi becomes the festival for all people in the area.
Thanks to the talent of card shower and announcer, Bài chòi is means to transmit traditional cultural values of forefathers to next generations. Those values are folk songs, proverbs, stories of love for the homeland, village, of filial piety to the ancestors, deep love of couple ... All of them are teachings, advices, life experiences of forefathers transmitting over generations. It is the bottom line cementing members in the community of villages, clans and families together.
Bài chòi possesses features of popularly music art. They are familiar folk rhythms, which are easy to get. In Bài chòi play festivals, instrumentalists are hardy farmers but with only normal instruments such as drum, nhị, đàn bầu, trumpet, sanh..., they make a harmonious concert with popular tunes namely xuân nữ, xằng xê, cổ bản... suited to chanties hò khoan, hò mái nhì, hò giả gạo, hò ru con, hò đối đáp of card shower and announcer.
Lyrics of announcements in Bài chòi are simple, rustic and sincere and sung in local dialect with regional features. Thus, it is suited to life of working men in villages and contains the profound content of the porpularly literature and poem. It is the premise to the formation of modern literture.
This is the announment of the card Xơ, for instance:
Cươi eng ba năm răng khôông chộ eng xuốc/ Why don’t you sweep your courtyard for 3 years?
Tréc nọ sáu tháng răng khôông chộ eng chùi/ Why don’t you wash your pot for 6 months?
Trọ eng dư cục bùi nhùi/ Your hair is dishevelled like tinder
Ra hò nhân ngãi với tiu răng rồi/ Probably fail to sing love songs to me
2. Cultural values in bài chòi Quảng Trị
It is a porpularly literatural folk play to entertain and comfort the laborers when spring comes. Bài chòi brings the joy and cheer to people after exhausted working days and worries in the daily life. Bài chòi is not hired in rituals at sacred places for worship. It is merely a wholesome entertaining play. Players do not even emphasize the competition to win at any cost but just try their fortune in early new year. Furthermore, a huge number of players join the festival because it is held in spring.
Bài chòi festival is a kind of communal cultural activity, means to tight the relations through exchange and to cohere the community since its members are organizers, players, audience and artists who invent announcement, improvise to announce... Those are elements immediately fascinating more and more people come to play folk bài chòi.
Bài chòi festival inspires everyone, especially working class in rural areas. Besides inherent announcements, new songs are added to the treasure, which makes it richer, more diversified and strongly existing despite the hard time of war and separation and other ups and downs in Quảng Trị.
Another important folk feature is the solidarity and collectivity in Bài chòi play. A cabin can host a whole family including spouses and their children or bosom friends who come to try their fortune in early new year, to meet and then love exchange as well.
3. The art of rules
Though it is the same set of bài tới card (30 pairs) sticked to bamboo badges used in Bài chòi festival, different localities rule the play differently. The preliminary researches indicate that there are 3 basic rules to play Bài chòi, based on which people locate cabins appropriately:
- Rule number 1: In Ngô Xá Tây village - Triệu Trung commune (Triệu Phong district)
Build up 11 branch cabins (cabins for players) in U shape. A flag of numerical order is hung on each cabin. 1 center cabin (headquater staying the Organizing Committee and music band) is on the opposite side.
The Organizing Committee randomly splits the card set to 11 mini sets. Each mini set contains 5 single cards called a card hand. A card hand is compulsively never given 2 cards of the same content. The Organizing Committee holds 01 card for the shower/announcer to go shopping and 4 single cards of which each 2 cards with the same content forming to 1 pair (they can be random 2 pairs of the bài tới card set). When the Organizing Committee starts the play, card shower takes card hands to cabins. Each cabin randomly picks 1 card hand (mini set) and leave the rest single card to go shopping. A branch cabin releases 2 cards on each its turn and the last card is to “waylay”. The wooden bell will be beaten when the winner is revealed. To notice winner of a turn, the wooden bell is continuously beaten 3 times and to notice who repeatedly wins, it is a long beating.
- Rule number 2: In Hà Thượng village - Gio Linh town (Gio Linh district)
Build up 10 branch cabins at 2 sides and the center cabin is in the middle. The card set is devided into 2 parts of which one consists of 30 green cards and the other part contains 30 red cards.
According to the regulation by the Organizing Committee, players are grouped to 2 factions and players of a faction stay in 5 cabins at one side. Players have to buy tickets on which the cabin number is printed. Tickets are randomly given so buyers do not decide the number or cabin they hold. When every cabin is filled, the 2 card showers/announcers deliver the cards to 10 cabins. Each cabin randomly picks 3 cards and the rest 30 cards are upside down so that people can see only the card handle from the bamboo tube at the center cabin.
After every cabin finishes card picking, card shower/announcer comes to the bamboo tube of cards at the head cabin, keep shaking then slowly pick the cards. Holding the card in hand, the shower sings the announcement of card content. Player in the cabin holding the card of that content beats the bamboo bell 3 times then is given a little pennant by the game assistant. When a cabin wins 3 times (got 3 pennants), the player announces "tới" and gives a long beating on bamboo bell. All music instruments are played to notice that the ultimate winner is revealed.
- Rule number 3: In Đơn Duệ village - Vĩnh Hòa commune, Tùng Luật village - Vĩnh Giang commune and zone 5, Vĩnh Tiến - Hồ xá town - (Vĩnh Linh district)
The Organizing Committee determines the number of branch cabin. It can be 9, 10 or 11 branch cabins built up at 2 sides. The center cabin is in the middle. The Organizing Committee splits the card set to 2 parts of which one part contains green cards staying at one side and the other part consists of red cards staying at the opposite side. There are 2 card showers for 2 sides. After the Organizing Committee shuffle the cards, card showers take the cards to their side cabins. A cabin can randomly picks 5 cards. The center cabin is given 6 cards. A shower can deliver 3 cards. The side which finishes card distribution later will have to give the last card picked to go shopping. The rest 4 cards must be able to form 2 pairs. Branch cabin releases 2 cards on one turn and the last card is to “waylay”. 3 cards namely tử, ầm and đỏ mỏ can never be used to “waylay”. When a cabin wins, the bamboo bell is beaten.
The art in this regulation is very interesting. The devision into 2 opposite sides makes every branch cabin of those sides to stay connect, make calculations and especially remember the cards released so that they can prevent the opposite side from winning the third card. 3 cards namely tử, ầm and đỏ mỏ are the last card to end turn of each side but they have to be released before some cabin wins the third card. Otherwise, that late side will be given penalty for the whole play. Nowadays, to manage cheating due to modern information technology, the Organizing Committee asks players to leave their cell phones and other means of communication.
4. The art of the card shower/announcer in Bài chòi festival
Bài chòi, as aforementioned, is a kind of lively folk art since itself delicately includes poems, folk songs, proverbs and traditional music expressed by the unique quick improvisation. It is the card shower/announcer’s skills of performing, improvising and asking riddle contribute to the expression in Bài chòi festival. Shower and announcer are rustic farmers in daily life turning to nonprofessional performers, artists in Bài chòi festival. Those rustic and naive folk elements constitute the charming beauty attracting people to come to the festival. It can be said that the announcer is the soul, vitality determining the success of Bài chòi festival.
Card shower is also the announcer to ask players the riddle. Hence, the announcements are always modified to avoid the boringness, provided that the meaning of the card is unchanged. The shower must be a talented artist, who knows many folk songs, proverbs and folk stories to challenge cabins and his side. They surely are smart, quickly reacting and improvising to deserve the honor that people in Quảng Trị give by calling them“hò mui méng” (hò đầu môi) to praise. Each of 30 cards in the bài tới card set can be described by various announcements. An announcement is created based on certain tunes, folk stories, which also the materials to invent chanties namely hò khoan, hò mái nhì, hò giả gạo, hò ru con, hò đối đáp... Lyrics of thai are not sleeky and elaborate but innocent, easy to remember and heart warming.
For instance: Chanty of the card Tuyết in style of singing exchange between male and female:
- I gave you a handful of popcorn
Sowing today, tree growing tomorrow, you and me in love
- You have a waste land
It has never got wet for 3 nonstop rainy years and never been dry for 6 months with no rain
You let me sow, then it grows
Chanty of the card Nghèo can be sung in style of lullaby and story Thoại Khanh - Châu Tuấn:
Ạ ơi ờ, my darling, who vẹ you?
Green leaves fall down when yellow leaves still on the tree
Ờ ơ ờ dry tree dipped into water is till dry
The poor are always poor no matter where they are
Or: The poor,
With two hands take mother to Tràng An to earn money.
The shower/announcer is concurrently a singer performing chanties, a scholar improvising in any circumstance, a comedian amusing people in the festival. Facial expressions and body gestures of the card shower/announcer cohere with each other to exactly express content of the card. They are so hilarious that people of all ages and classes burst laughing at them, but they are still delicate and witty. Their appearances are just to support the fun for festival attenders to enjoy. To festival comers, that fun is their good fortune and blessedness, which make them happily smile during the year.
Unlike the eye-catching flashy costum that actors and actresses dress in performance, the card shower/announcer clothe daily costum, which is the traditional black or brown bà ba suit of people in Quảng Trị with rustic materials. They may add a ribbon around their heads or tight over their hips to distinguish themselves from the audience. Thus, they become nonprofessional artists performing to hundreds of spectators. Their performing gestures are not steered by any stage director. There is no professional technique of art or staging, no certain formal specifications. Everything is improvisation. A play normally hires 2 to 4 announcers alternative to each other to sing.
Language in announcements is simple, naive with reasonable rustic poems. The expression is in style of fable and idiom that are short, simple and easy to remember. The hilarity is in style of folk humorous stories, which are silly and witty. To challenge people with riddle, words are ribald and rustic but the implicative meaning is so elegant. For instance, announcement of the card Đượng can be:
My boat picks passengers,
A boat covers all you sides,
Go over fierce weather conditions,
Fight with huge waves surrounding,
There is someone calling the boat,
Push off quickly to pick him
Or: Honey, rising stars shining,
Look up and see the sun rising.
I sleep deeply so you the butterfly come to play rough tricks.
Or: Ôi thôi rồi con mụ hắn mắc rồi
Mụ thuê tui 3 trự, tui lắc cồi ra cho.
Or the card Ngũ:
Why do not you stand to compete when market is being crowded?
So now when market is over, you accept even losers
Or: Do not hook on gamble darling,
People ridicule you playing at night and sleeping in daytime
The card Gối:
Hear the heron screaming when lying at night,
Miss the beloved partner when spring comes
There is also a different chanty:
Look at airplanes flying like swallows up on the sky
Look at tram-cars running on the ground
Oh love oh debt oh predestination.
Who engage with me.
In order not to be ridiculed for being left on the shelf for so long.
Traditional musical instruments namely drum, nhị, sanh, trumpet considerably support the announcer in performing. Festival comers always expect to enjoy good singing of the card shower with new intersting thai announcements and melodies of traditional musical instruments, which really attract people.
Apparently, our forefathers used Bài chòi, an cultural artistic play, to get people rid of unsound customs, especially superstitious customs namely witchcraft, fortune-telling. Thus, depending on customs and beliefs of each village and each region in Quảng Trị, there exist various play rules but they are all wholesome and salutary authentically like the intrinsic beauty of folk art in Quảng Trị.
Basic lineaments, traditional cultural and artistic values, diversified rules of play distinguished from other provinces in the Central, and the talent of farmers cum performers and instrumentalists performing on the homaland stage have constituted the strong temptation of Bài chòi Quảng Trị festival that makes it undeniably meet the expectations of players and the public./.