Each ethnic group or locality in Cao Bang Province has specific forms of folk arts, for example:
– Traditional folk songs:
- Songs of the Tay people include: Luon singing, Then singing, Luon Sluong, Luon coi, Luon ngan;
- Songs of the Nung people include Luon phu, Luon tai, Luon Heo phon Nung An, Sli giang, Nang oi etc.;
- Songs of the Dao people include Pao dung.
– Performance stage:
- The Tay people have Phuong Ly stage;
- The Nung people have “xuong Da hai”, which is an ancient form of traditional opera (Tuồng) of more than 300-year history, which is currently being restored.
– Traditional folk dance:
- Dances of the Tay people include Sluong dance, adoration dance;
- Dances of the Nung people include fan dance, scarf dance;
- Dances of the Dao people include bell dance, drum dance;
- Dances of the Mong people include umbrella dance, praise dance.
– Musical instruments:
- The Tay people have gourd lute;
- The Nung people have two-stringed vertical violin and the copper rattles;
- The H’mong people have bamboo tube flute, leaf flute and mouth harp.
The most outstanding is, perhaps, “Then” singing, which has an important role in cultural activities and beliefs of the Tay ethnic group. “Then” can be understood as Thien (God), so “Then” singing is still considered as a fairy rhythm by the Tay, Nung and Thai people.
The origin of “Then” singing comes from the belief of people about a mystical world where magical characters such as Buddha and God live, but only Ba Then and Ong Then (Mrs. Then and Mr. Then) can access that world. Ong Then and Ba Then sing and play musical instrument, while at the same time present offerings to God.
“Then” singing is not just a normal folk tune, it is also a combination of many arts and customs, such as singing, dancing, playing musical instrument and emotion exchange. It is “Then” words harmonizing with the melody of Dan Tinh (a musical instrument called “Tinh”) and the variable rhythm of the rattle that take Ba Then and Ong Then to the God to ask for help for the human.
“Then” lyrics are those that have been carefully selected by ordinary people; they are also excerpts from ryhming poems, and are the advice, encouragement, and experience on one’s behavior. Therefore, by listening to “Then”, people may learn valuable lessons about life, the nature and the people.
As a distinctive musical genre, it has become a need for community cultural activities of the Tay ethnic group in every festival of Lunar New Year and spring seasons, to pray for good weather, good harvest and proliferation of human being and all species etc. “Then” tunes appear in many localities with different versions, and commonly serve the following functions: Then ky yen (praying for security), Then cau mua (praying for good crops), Then chuc tung (wishing), Then chua benh (curing), Then cap sac (Lau Then – coming-of age/marking the maturity of a man in a family). Particularly, Then “begging for children” (“Cai cau cau Biooc – Bac cau xin Hoa”), the Tay people who are late for children ask Ba Then to organize a “Cau Hoa” as they believe that “Mother Hoa” grants children to the human.
Dan Tinh is an inseparable musical instrument when mentioning about “Then” singing, and vice versa. Dan Tinh and Then singing seem to have magic that mesmerizes people. The scene of children smiling, couple loving and people enjoying laced with natural surroundings create unforgettable memory of them, and thus promote their love for homeland.
“Dan Tinh melody echoes from many years, song about sunshine, song bout rain” demonstrates human feelings and realities, while Then voice makes people emotion swing. The Dan Tinh sound reflects feelings of both players and listeners. The sound radiates away all over the mystique cloudy mountains.
Then singing – Dan Tinh in Tran Hung Dao forest historical monument.