CA DAO VIỆT NAM

Preface

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, millions of Vietnamese people fled their country to seek freedom. And since then people all over the world started to know about the miserable plight of Vietnamese refugees. However, a thorough understanding of the Vietnamese way of life, way of thinking is still vague in the eye of the natives of the countries they immigrate to.

In that situation, I would like to contribute one cultural aspect of the Vietnamese by dedicating myself to a research in Vietnamese folk poetry, which reflects the authentic customs of the Vietnamese. This book will give the reader a general view of the role of folk poetry in Vietnamese literature, its structures, styles and forms covering all themes and sub-themes of this type of literarture; each theme and sub-theme will be typified with one or two pieces of poems, namely ca-dao

The utmost expectation of this collection is to enhance the understanding between the newcomers and the local dwellers of the country where the Vietnamese consider their second homeland. In the long run, this book will be helpful for the second Vietnamese generation abroad and their descendants. It works as a reminder of the literary beauty of their origin.

Hopefully, readers will find this collection useful when they wish to get an insight about the language and Vietnamese people.


In Vietnamese culture, folklore plays an important role in the formation of values and attitudes. Of the many categories that folklore covers, there is one type that has no precise English term to name it. That is ca-dao, "folk oral verse expression," or Vietnamese folk poetry.

Ca [ka] means singing; dao [jaU] is a poem of one rhymed stanza sung freely by children, and particularly by the majority of people in the countryside, the backbone of Vietnam’s history. Unlike tuïc-ngöõ “proverbs’, caùch-ngoân ‘aphorisms’, and ngaïn-ngöõ ‘maxims’, chaâm ngoân ‘precepts’,ca-dao, is believed to have existed for thousands of years[1] and to have accumulated during this time. It best reflects the way of living, the way of thinking and the sentimentalism of the Vietnamese people. There are three forms of ca-dao: phong-dao ‘folk poetry denoting custom of the Vietnamese’, ñoàng-dao ‘children's folk lyrical songs’, and caâu ñoá ‘riddles.’

In general, ca-dao are folk poems anonymously[2] made into "songs," which are sung during social gatherings, rice paddy preparation for a new crop or the harvest.Ca-dao is orally passed down from generation to generation in lullabies sung mainly by the mother, expressed by youngsters who wish to bare their hearts to the opposite sex, or recited by elderly people to instruct the young when they give them advice or moral lessons. It can be regarded as a part of the treasure of Vietnam's popular literature. According to Balaban, one of the very few authors who have done research in this area, ca-dao is “close to Greek lyric poetry of the 7th century BC [3]

Structurally, ca-dao is composed of at least two lines to a long stanza of 14 lines or more. In other words, it is free in the sense that the speaker can add more lines without limit provided that he properly links rhyme, word pitch and meter.

Like The Shih King – The Book of Ancient Poetry , one of the four Great Books of the ancient Chinese ca-dao, though having existed for thousands of years, covers themes that can be applied to contemporary social activities.

Authors of ca-dao are anonymous. But lines of ca-dao are believed to be “not a product of the common people as such. It seems rather that earlier generations of literati, especially those of plebeian origin who retained their contacts among the common people, wrote songs for their own amusement or for the common people to sing on particular occasions...[4]” Words in ca-dao vary regionally to suit the dialects whose residents claim theirs as "the original." But however different the words are, their ideas and implications are considered precious pearls of Vietnamese literature, praising the sentimentalism of the Vietnamese people toward their country; toward nature; love; friendship; and truth[5].



[1] Pham The Ngu, Vietnam Van Hoc Su Gian Uoc Tan Bien (A Simplified Series of The History of Vietnamese Literature), Quoc Hoc Tung Thu, Saigon, 1963, p.28

[2] This is a controversial topic for many pieces among the treasure of ca-dao were claimed to have been written by some contemporary authors or from the story of Kiều by Nguyen Du, the author known as a Corneil of France or a Shakespeare of Vietnam. Please see Appendix B for more details.

[3] Ca dao Vietnam, a Bilingual Anthology of Vietnamese Folk Poetry, Unicorn Press,1980. p.17.

[4] An Introduction to Vietnamese Literature, Maurice M. Durand and Nguyen Tran Huan, translated from the French by D. M. Hawke, Columbia University Press, New York, 1985.

[5] The Vietnamese highly opine their ideal being Truth (or Chân lý), Beauty and Goodness.