In the beginning of lunar December, members of Viet Anh Duong Southern Lion Team (Ninh Kieu District) are busy with their drills. Founded over 20 years ago, Viet Anh Duong is now a strong team of Can Tho City. The techniques of the southern lion and drum performances and the blessing for home owners on Tet Holiday have always been well-organized by the team members. According to Mr. Le Quang Viet, Head of Viet Anh Duong Southern Lion Team, “In the past, after watching the dancing Southern Lion parade, I was passionate about it and decided to pursue this career which is now my family’s main job. On Tet Holiday, if southern lion team comes to a house to dance, its owner will definitely be happy, and so are we, because the southern lion is a sacred animal whose appearance is believed to scare bad luck away, so everyone wants to have him perform in order to help the home owner with successes.”
As a researcher with many studies on Southern culture, Mr. Nham Hung says, “Southern Lion Dance came from the folk tale "The legend of the Southern Lion and Ong Dia (the spirit of the earth)”. The story was about a beast called Lan (the Southern Lion) from the sea that harassed people. Ong Dia overpowered the beast and turned him into an herbivorous and good animal. Since then, every year, Ong Dia takes Lan to the foot of the mountain to bring people hopes for a new year. The southern lion dance custom on Tet Holiday originated from that time. Mr. Nham Hung comments on this traditional custom, “Southern lion is a mythical and sacred animal, which is one of the four supernatural creatures, namely, "Lan (Southern Lion), Long, (Dragon), Quy (Tortoise) and Phung (Phoenix)". Lan represents for prosperity, so there is always the southern lion dance during Tet Holiday."
A southern lion dancer must be well-built and excellent at martial arts. All movements such as picking buds up, eating, sleeping, etc. have to be definitive and harmonious with the drumbeats. Because of its sophistication, the southern lion dance on Tet Holiday is always expected and welcomed by families. "The southern lion dance on Tet Holiday scares misfortune in the old year off, but brings hopes for a peaceful and successful new year. In difficult years, it was such a quiet and boring Tet’s atmosphere without the southern lion dance", says Mr. Le Van Hoang (resident in Bui Huu Nghia Ward, Binh Thuy District.)
In Can Tho, a lot of families still practice the craft of making southern lion heads and Ong Dia’s masks. Mrs. Lam Thi Hien’s family (residents in An Lac Ward, Ninh Kieu District) has practiced the craft for 4 generations. Mrs. Hien says that children were extremely passionate about southern lion heads in the past, so they were indispensable on Tet Holiday. Although making southern lion heads is no longer popular, her family still preserves the craft. Mrs. Hien shares her thought with us, "My father said, no matter how difficult it was, we had to keep the job; we would never give it up."
When spring comes with throbbing drumbeats, the image of dancing southern lions provides its spectators with much excitement and a great hope for a peaceful and happy new year.
Nguyen Tin. Translated by Diep Truong