Lullabies are part of the early years of most children. They are an excellent way to get a small child to relax and fall asleep at the end of the day. Parents and even grandparents sing to children and in countries where families are so important like Vietnam, lullabies that have been passed down the generations remain part of daily life. Often there are three generations of the same family living in the same house in a village and getting children to fall asleep is a joint task.
Rural villages have become a regular inclusion in Vietnam travel packages and with homestays becoming increasingly popular both in the Highland regions as well as the Mekong Delta, more tourists are able to experience how villagers live on a day to day basis. Children will not understand the words of the popular lullabies but it is the soothing tones in which they are delivered that weave their magic.
Hat Ru (lullaby singing) remains popular in all rural areas, quiet rhythm that sets the atmosphere of relaxation. The popular stories vary from region to region. In the North one of the popular songs translates into:
“My child, sleep well,
So mom can carry water to wash the elephant’s back,
If anyone wants to see, go up to the mountain
To see Lady Trung, Trieu riding the elephant’s golden backs”
In the Central regions of Vietnam, it is slightly different:
“Baby, sleep well,
So mother can go to the market to buy an earthen saucepan,
If she goes to the southern market,
She will buy you a long and bent sugar cane”
In Southern Vietnam, many lullabies include the word ví dầu (imagine):
“Imagine you’re walking on a board-bridge fastened with nails,
It is hard as walking on an unstable bamboo bridge”
The latter is hardly a subject that a young child would understand but seemingly the lullaby works just as well as every lullaby anywhere else in Vietnam, or indeed the world.
Lullaby singing of course is not a public performance. It is difficult to know its popularity outside the villages because urban life is so different. If you ask a Vietnam travel agent, it may be possible to hear lullabies other than in remote villages. The people are hospitable and will help in any way they can, but if you see a lullaby being sung, remember to be quiet because it needs to achieve its aim, a sleeping child.