Mua Roi Nuoc or Water Puppet is a unique art which has it origin in the delta of the Red river in the tenth century. Some of the earliest troupes are in NguyÃªn XÃ¡ commune, ÄÃ´ng HÆ°ng district, Thai Binh province.The farmers in this region devised a form of entertainment using what natural medium they can find in their environment. This unique art first appeared around the 15th century, when post-harvest, artists who were also farmers would gather to perform and relax. In ancient times, the ponds and the rice paddies after harvest were the stage for these impromptu shows. This art form is unique to North Vietnam and only finds its way to the world stage in recent years as a result of the normalized relation with the West. Today the Thang Long puppet troupe is the most well known in Ha Noi.
Modern, water puppetry is performed in a pool of water with the water surface being the stage. The puppeteers stand behind a screen and control the puppets using long bamboo rods and string mechanism hidden beneath the water surface. The puppets are carved out of wood and often weigh up to 15 kg. A traditional Vietnamese orchestra provides background music accompaniment. Singers of Cheo (a form of opera) with origin in north Vietnam sing songs which tell the story being acted out by the puppets
The theme of the skits is rural and has a strong reference to Vietnamese folklore. It tells of day-to-day living in rural Vietnam and Vietnamese folk tales that are told older generation to younger generation. Of which stories of the harvest, of fishing and of festivals are highlighted.
The water also provides the best setting for the puppeteersâ€™ theme: day-to-day village life. Water puppets bring wry humor to scenes of farming, fishing, festival events such as buffalo fights, and childrenâ€™s games of marbles and coin-toss. Fishing turns into a game of wits between the fisherman and his prey, with the fisherman getting the short end (often capturing his surprised neighbor by mistake). Besides village life, scenes include legends and national history. Lion dogs romp like puppies while dragons exhale smoke and shoot sprays of water at the audience. Teu, a pig-tailed bumpkin, is the character who usually plays the role of introducing the performances. The introduction is always accompanied by a small folk orchestra. Spotlights and colorful flags adorn the stage and create a festive atmosphere.
Legends and national history are also told through short skits. Many of the skits, especially those involving the tales of day-to-day living, often have a humorous twist.
Water puppetry has always gone hand in hand with festivals. Each Lunar March 13, Bo Duong villagers hold village festival to commemorate their tutelary god. Aside from worship, the festival is also an opportunity for villagers to relax by watching water puppetry, taking in fireworks displays, flying kites and entering cock-fighting contests. The festival always attracts thousands of attendants. Village festivals are great wind down for farmers and artists alike.