Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Viet Nam Funeral, 1970, Bong Son

My childhood years were inside a war zone.  There were things that were scary, but to me as a child the  thing that terrified me the most was the sight of a funeral procession through my village.  I used to roam around the neighborhood and play with my friends daily.  No matter how far away from home, if I heard the sound of a funeral procession, I would run home as fast as I could without thinking about anything else.

Since my village was the lower part of the larger neighborhood, from up the hill there were many other different villages and people had to go through ours to get to the mountain and sea.  I  believe at the base of the mountain is where people buried their love ones.

First, I would notice the loud, sharp high pitched music note  of a certain kind of flute, the sound of drum, and a mixture of other kind instruments I did not know. They created a high pitched music that pierced through ears and heart. To me it was not entertaining but terrifying.  After hearing the music, children would all look up, frozen, and wait until the sight of the group of people appeared from the top of the hill. Then we would all just run home.

I would hide in my house, peeking out the window and see the funeral attendees walking slowly through on the road.  First came people who played the music, then a person throwing fake paper money in the air.  The coffin was tied with ropes at each end, had a strong stick loop through the ropes, and was carried by four people.  After the coffin came the  family members and friends.  The family members wore a white outfit on top of their normal clothes.  It was kind of similar to our "ao dai" but was not fancy.  Its length was down to the knees, split on both sides.  It was sewn together at the neck and shoulders to hold the sleeves to the body of the dress.  There was no hem. Everything about the dress was ragged and torn. The thread of the fabric hung loosely. Each funeral attendee wore a white bandeau on the his head tied at the back with a white tie and with no hems.

When the funeral went by, the adults in the village who saw it would stand quietly to show respect. As for me, I was terrified.  Something about the sight of the coffin, the strange outfits they wore, the sad sound of their crying and most terrifying of all the music, all worked to make me petrified.

I do not know if this is the traditional funeral procession of Viet Nam,  but this is kind of the tradition of the village where I grew up.  And I do not know if the religion has anything to do with the way of the funeral that I saw when I was a child because I did not attend any funerals when I was in Viet Nam.

When I attend funerals here, it is different.  We wear black, a line of cars go through the city roads escorted by the police, and people cry quietly.  It seems calmer, not as scary and not that sort of music that pierces; however, it represents the same thing.  We are sending our loved ones back to the earth with love and respect in our own different ways.

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