Bamboo Swings (Danh Du)
Swings have been traditional game at village festivals for centuries. A Complete History of Dai Viet (Dai Viet su ky toan thu) states: "In the Ly Dynasty, in spring or the first lunar month, boys and girls get together and play this game".
The game is most popular in the northern delta, especially along the banks of the Duong River in Bac Ninh Province. Residents in many villages around Ha Noi, including the ancient capital of Co Loa, also set up swings during spring festivals.
Villagers usually build their swings on a dry, harvested rice paddy near a communal house. The area should be large enough for spectators to stand around all four sides.
Swings and the associated games come in many kinds and variations. However, the most common Vietnamese swings involve a wooden platform, not a seat. One or two people stand on the platform and swing themselves high in the air, even tens of meters, until their bodies are almost parallel to the ground. Their goal is a prize hanging from the top of the swing's frame.
The frame of the swing is constructed of solid bamboo. The handles are also made of bamboo that is straight, without knots and wide enough for a person's palm. The swing's platform must be close enough to the ground that players can jump on easily.
To ensure safety, builders must choose the right bamboo, for young bamboo is weak, while old bamboo is less elastic and tends to break. They seal their completed frame with paper and invite an elderly villager to check its quality. If the frame meets his standards, he will remove the seal. With that, someone beats a drum. He clasps both hands in front of his chest and bows to his fellow villagers. Then, on behalf of the community, he opens the game.
Players should dress smartly and neatly. Boys wear red purse-belts and girls greenish pulse-belts over traditional four-panel dresses (tu than) and then headscarves so their hair won't come loose. Often a boy and girl will swing together.
First, the couple steps onto the swing platform and stands face to face. Then they press their feet against platform floor and bend their knees. Gradually, the swing begins to move like a pendulum. The harder they press, the higher the swing flies, as described in a poem by the 19th-century woman poet Ho Xuan Huong:
The boy bends his knees
The girl bends her back
The four red panels of her skirt fly in the air
Two parallel lines of stretched legs.
At the height or their swinging, the two almost lie on top of one another. The crowd cheers. As soon as the couple reaches the highest point, one of the two will stretch out a hand and try to snatch the prize. This is the most difficult part of the game, for it requires that both players be calm, clever and acts as a team. They lose if they drop the prize. The crowd is just as anxious, hoping the couple manages to secure the prize as a reward for their long days of practice.