Vietnamese Traditional Toys: Reminder of a Rich Culture

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While most children’s toys today, among other things, have gone extremely modernized in keeping up with the times, Vietnam has still retained some of its traditional toys, a clear indication of its stable and proud culture.

Vietnamese archaeologists have discovered children’s toys as far back as 4,000 centuries ago, consisting of clay marbles, stone-carved statues as well as images of other play things inscribed on ancient bronze Dong Son drums.

Vietnam’s history when it comes to children differs so much from other countries because they grew up in a time of frequent wars and natural disasters. As such, they didn’t have the luxury of regular toys, or for playing in general. Instead, they had to make do with what was around them to pass for entertainment. Thus, wood, leaves, bamboo, clay and paper were the primary materials for making “toys.”

Rotation drums are one of the common makeshift toys then, made of paper which stretches across one side of a clay hoop to form a drum head. The drum head is attached to a straight bamboo handle by two wires and designed to twist. A drum stick suspended between two wires by a rubber band repeatedly hits the drum head while turning, creating a loud clicking or drumming noises.

The bamboo boat is another simple toy made from thick bamboo that is splintfolded in the middle. 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 shape while a small, flat piece of wood is secured in the middle of the band. The rubber band is twisted then the boat is released, pushing it forward while the rubber band unwinds and the flat stick spins. Children play with these simple boats on puddles formed by rains.

Lion head mask is used in lion dances during mid-autumn festivals. It is made from paper mach with two mirrors which serve as eyes, a long red cloth for the tail and bright synthetic fibres as the mane. One person wears the lion head while the others wave the long tail wearing clown masks, all the while dancing to the beat of a loud drum.

The steam boat is made from tin cans and can be decorated simply or extravagantly depending on the availability of materials or creativity of the kid. It has a small diesel container below which is lit to heat a second box filled with water. The steam makes a gurgling sound, signaling the running of the boat and the delight of the child playing with it.   

Phoc gun is a toy for boys usually played in the summer. The bullets are made of small nuts or balls of rolled paper with a small cylinder made of a hollow bamboo tube not more than 5 mm. A second round stick functions as a piston and is fitted into this tube. A second bullet is placed inside the gun’s mouth and quickly pushed so that the air inside the tube is compressed. The first bullet flies out with a sharp “phoc,” or a popping noise, thus the name of the toy. But even if it is called as such, it doesn’t really impose danger. In fact, it teaches a child hand coordination.

Vietnamese traditional toys may be quite primitive compared to most toys in other countries, but they are definitely one-of-a-kind and actually meaningful because they teach children how to respect nature and develop a community spirit. Moreover, they are a clear reminder of the rich and proud culture of Vietnam.