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Notes by Bradford Clark, Curator

Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God


c.20th Century
Unknown Artist
Vietnamese; mua roi nuoc water puppet
Gift of Bradford Clark

Having successful repelled Chinese invaders in the 15th century, the great hero Le Loi sails with his companions onto the lake Ho Hoan Kiem (located what is now central Hanoi) to return his magic sword. Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God (and one of the four sacred animals of Vietnam), rises out of the waters, accepts the sword, and then dives back into the depths.

This figure was used in performance by the Thang Long Water Puppet Troupe of Hanoi.

Mua Roi Nuoc 
Water Puppetry of Vietnam

The origins of Vietnamese water puppetry are unclear, but an inscription at a Vietnamese pagoda reference dates it back as early as 1121 C.E. and perhaps further. As traditionally presented by local guilds of amateur performers of the Red River delta, mua roi nuoc involved complex secrets of manipulation and construction techniques that the members of each village’s guild once closely guarded from outsiders. Membership in such guilds was strictly controlled (and limited to men, as they would not marry outside of the village and spread their secrets to others).

Water puppet performers manipulate floating figures by means of long poles while standing in deep water and behind screens. Figures are carved from wood, painted with a water-resistant lacquer, and outfitted with complex mechanisms made of bamboo tubes, bicycle chains, rubber tubes and parts recycled from bicycles and trucks used for the complex mechanisms.  Puppets are manipulated in a variety of ways, including cords, bicycle chains, metal rudders and underwater tracks.

While at one time, mua roi nuoc was exclusively performed by guilds of amateurs in rural areas, professional troupes (including female performers) now perform daily in Hanoi and Saigon to tourist audiences, and also tour internationally. Performances include scenes from village life and events, legends and myths from the history of Vietnam. In the mid 20th century, scenes featuring modern political themes occasionally appeared. Contemporary performances, while not so specifically topical, provide images and historical events from the past that define Vietnamese identity in the present.
The Asia/Pacific UNESCO Centre recognizes mua roi nuoc as an Important Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Thang Long Water Puppet Troupe of Hanoi

Study Guide from the Thang Long Troupe’s festival appearance in New Zealand

Center for Puppetry Arts catalog page

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