Preserving the charm of ancient ‘Then’ tunes

Wednesday, 2020-06-03 12:25:18
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People’s Artisan Mong Thi Sam has devoted more than 63 years to preserving the ancient tunes of ‘Then’ folk singing.
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NDO – People’s Artisan Mong Thi Sam from Lang Son Province has devoted more than 63 years to preserving the ancient tunes of ‘Then’ folk singing, a cultural and spiritual heritage of Tay and Nung ethnic groups.

Sam was born in 1939 Po Tang Hamlet, Hop Thanh Commune, Cao Loc District, which is the cradle of Then singing in Lang Son Province. The land, which possesses rich tradition and culture, has long been home to the Nung ethnic group.

Raised in a family with eight consecutive generations of practicing Then singing, Sam has heard and was taught to sing sweet Then melodies and play the Tinh (gourd lute) since she was a little girl.

Not only mastering popular Then rituals such as the baby’s one-month celebration, a ritual to pray for peace and prosperity, and a ritual to dispel bad luck, Sam can also host ancient Then rituals including the 'Cap Sac' ritual, a rite of passage declaring the coming-of-age of men within the community, and the grand Then ritual.

She has learned by heart the lyrics and melodies of Then songs in every stage of different rituals.

Therefore, Then rituals hosted by Mong Thi Sam attract many viewers and have become a venue for cultural exchange in the community.

According to People’s Artist Trieu Thuy Tien, Vice Chair of the Association for preserving Lang Son Province’s folk music, Then masters are not only talented artists but also “living museums” who can tell a lot about their groups’ religious and cultural heritage.

Tien said that Mong Thi Sam is considerably respected and admired in the community as is a living archive of thousands of Then lines, which are sung in assorted rituals conveying people’s wishes in their lives.

Not only does she have a time-honoured and passionate attachment to Then singing, Sam has also been active in teaching and spreading Then melodies in her community.

Sam has written down ancient Then lyrics to prevent them from being lost and teaches them to members of local Then singing clubs. Her collections are also a valuable source of reference for researchers and those who want to learn more about the folk singing.

She has travelled to many localities across the country, including the provinces of Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Lam Dong and Dak Lak, to inspire her love for Then singing to the Tay and Nung ethnic groups there.

Director of the Lang Son Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Phuc Ha hailed Mong Thi Sam as a veteran artisan of Then singing and Tinh lute playing.

She has enthusiastically participated in cultural and arts activities and festivals in the locality, where she has gained high prizes.

In 2019, she was awarded the People’s Artisan title in recognition of her devotion to safeguarding and promoting the unique cultural value of Then folk singing.