Image by:

Vietnamese Traditional Toys: Staying True to Its Roots

While most things have gone digital today, including children’s toys which have transformed into the latest state-of-the-art video games, tablets, cellphones and other technologically-advanced gadgets, Vietnam is perhaps one of the few cultures which have maintained its traditional toys – crude, if not primeval playthings made from indigenous materials such as wood, leaves, bamboo, clay and paper.

Not that the Vietnamese were incapable of adapting to the changing times, but it was more of making do with what was available to them during that time. Vietnamese children lived a generally difficult life of war and natural catastrophes and so had little time, if at all, for leisure. They had to help in the family chores and other basic activities for livelihood and survival in general. For play, they had to use what they could find in their surroundings, and that were wood, leaves, bamboo, clay and paper. They had to rely on their creativity to find joy in those hard times.

And creative they were. Vietnamese archaeologists uncovered toys dating back to 4,000 years ago and they were the most fascinating things there are. Rotation drums were among the most favourite toys played by Vietnamese children then. It is made of paper which stretches across one side of a clay hoop to form a drum head, which in turn is attached to a straight bamboo handle. This handle is composed of two wires which are then twisted in order for the drum stick (suspended between two wires by a rubber band) to hit the drum head and make a loud, drumming sound. It is often decorated with a star painted on top.

The bamboo boat is made from thick bamboo which is splintfolded at the centre. A stick is threaded through holes drilled in each side of the split to form an A-shape. An elastic band is attached to the foot of the A-shape while a small, flat piece of wood is placed in the middle to secure the structure. The rubber band is then twisted to release the boat. As the elastic band unwinds, the flat stick spins, thrusting the boat forward. Children play with these bamboo boats on puddles after a rain.

Image by:

Image by:

The lion head mask is another common Vietnamese plaything, used in lion dances during the mid-autumn festivals. It is made of painted paper mach. The eyes of the lion are made of two mirrors, the tail of a red cloth, while the mane is bright synthetic fibres. One person wears the lion head while others, wearing clown masks, are assigned to move the tail like that of a real lion, all the while dancing to the sound of a pounding drum.

The steam boat is made of tin cans with diesel below it, lighted to heat a second box full of water. As steam develops as the water boils, a gurgling sound can be heard and the boat is propelled forward. They can be designed with flags, cannons and chimneys, simply or intricately depending on the availability materials or the creativity of the child.

Phoc gun is a boy’s toy, named as such because of its loud “phoc” or popping sound when the “bullet” is fired. The bullets are actually small nuts or balls of rolled paper, while the cylinder is a small, hollow bamboo tube not more than 5 mm. A round stick fitted into this tube serves as the piston. In order to load the “gun,” a bullet is pushed through the hollow tube to the lip of the barrel. Another bullet is placed just inside the gun’s mouth and quickly pushed to compress the air inside the tube. The first bullet is then fired because of this action. The phoc gun is usually played in the early summer, teaching young boys hand coordination and not threat as the name implies.   

Other traditional toys unearthed by the archaeologists were clay marbles and statues carved from stones; primitive kites; and images of other toys inscribed on prehistoric bronze Dong Son drums. Although these toys may seem pretty ancient considering the modern world we live in today, they taught children vital values such as respect for nature and community spirit. Perhaps more importantly, they show how stable and beautiful Vietnamese culture is, staying true to its roots despite the rapid digitization of the global community today.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *