Alert: Although lengthy this is worth the read, these women have proven themselves in all aspects of life and the Women’s Museum is a truly spectacular exhibit and for the sister birds of all ages, a must read.

I gave myself a day for just a wafer thin mint of culture before going on a boat tour of Halong Bay, (mistake to do that Rebecca you know you hate tours) and it wasn’t enough. I walked my little trotters off and totally exhausted myself.

Hanoi’s Women’s Museum.

I decided to walk from my hotel to the Women’s Museum. Mistake. It was far and in Hanoi you always have to add extra time for all those bloody scooters nipping in and out and whizzing round corners with piles of whatever they were selling that day usually impairing their vision. I was kinda tired when I got there and limped around a truly lovely historic foray of women’s role in Vietnam past and present. Small but ferocious, they impressed and entranced me in their many guises. You gotta give it to them they rock.

There are 54 ethnic groups all of which have their own identity so it’s a complex story across this long S shaped land, very diverse but united in the respect for women.

A Brief History of the tenacious women of Vietnam

Women have always played an important role in the defence of the Vietnamese nation.In 40AD the Trung sisters led the battle for independence against the Han Chinese

Trung Trac proclaimed herself Queen and made Me Linh the capital. In the 3rd Century 23 year-old Trieu Thi Trinh of Thanh Hoa fought against the oppression of the Wu Chinese. King Quang Trung female General Commander-in Chief of the elephant mounted troops, Bui Thi Xuan, contributed to a victory against 290,000 Qing Chinese invaders in 1789.

In the 10th Century the Regent Empress Duong Van Nga, sacrificed her lineage in the national interest by handing over power to the General Commander in Chief Le Hoan who founded the Le Dynasty. He won a decisive victory against the Song Chinese in 981. King Ly Thanh Tong wife and Regent Y can governed in favour of the people. She developed a plantation of mulberry trees for silk manufacturing and she liberated women from the harem. Nguyen Thi Due disguised herself as a man to take part in royal examinations in 1593. She became the first laureate and thus the first woman doctor.Other honoured women writers and poets induced Ho Xuan Huong, Doan Thi Diem and Ba Huyen Thanh Quan.

The more recent heroines.

Dinh Thi Van provided valuable intelligence.

Life during the war

During the Destructive War of the Americans, Northern Vietnam militarized the entire population to create action stations, tunnels and air raid shelters as well as evacuating civilians in high risk zones. At the same time agricultural production was a focus to ensure the stability of daily life. Anti-aircraft defence was a priority. Residents had to be vigilant, limit the use of lights to protect themselves from bombers and hide in the air raid shelters at the signal from an air-raid siren. In many regions daily activities had to take place in the air raid shelters or in the tunnel.

Ho Tinh in charge of locating bombs

The Vinh Linh tunnels

To cut the arterial road used for transportation assistance to the South, the enemy united air and sea forces to destroy Vinh Linh on the demarcation line. An underground network of more than 10km was then built. It was made up of tunnels, air raid shelters and guard rooms which could withstand the bombings. These tunnels connected the battle fields to a network of trenches more than 30km long. The two level 400m long tunnel from Vinh Moc to Vinh Thach was the most important. It was made up of water wells, an infirmary, a maternity ward, shops, class and meeting rooms and areas which catered for the daily life of thousands of people.

Young volunteers and soldiers

In 1965, the Anti-American Young Volunteers Force was founded 10 maintain road communications. More than 60,000 women repaired the roads after bombing at crucial points such as the Ham Rong Bridge (Thanh Hoa, the Ben Thuy Ferry (Nghe An) and the Dong Loc Crossroads (Ha Tinh). Women soldiers mostly worked in medical care and communications. Some were truck drivers at the front. The NguyenThi Hang team of 35 drivers transported goods and wounded soldiers in Quang Binh combat zone contributing to the construction of the famous Ho ChI Minh Trail

The Mother Goddess, Pregnancy, Post-natal Care and the Matriarchs.

There is a Mother Goddess culture. She is the supreme deity, reincarnated as four Mother goddesses, Heaven, Earth, Water, and Mountains and Forests.Worshipped in spacious palaces and temples and also in home altars. This brings good luck and faith to overcome natural calamities leading to a healthy and prosperous life.

Religions in Vietnam – Travel information for Vietnam from local ...

When it comes to pregnancy and after care they are amazing. Time off after the birth can be anything up to one hundred days. A strict diet is put in place including papaya and banana flower to encourage lactation. The mothers room is made warm, free from draughts, and purified by the smoke of special herbs. New mothers are kept warm with jars of embers under the beds. All sounds very calming start for mum and baby.

Various teeth embellishments including lacquer.

The Viet believe a baby is formed by the cult of the celestial mothers. When the baby is one month old the family pays tribute to these Goddesses, of which there are thirteen, the supreme mother and the twelve midwives. Each is named after a Chinese unit of time. Offerings are prepared for all thirteen in particular paper votive costumes. the other offerings are betel, incense sticks, fruit and sometimes live crabs and snails, rice, eggs and popular foods such as sweet potato, crispy rice and candies. They then praise the Goddesses and ask them to help the baby. Then gifts are given to the baby who tastes the offerings (that is not embellished upon I presume that they dont give baby a bit of snail.). At the end the votive gifts are burned, the live gifts released and the candies given to the young children. We in the West should have some customs like these!

Lacquered teeth.

Protection for the newborn.
Many taboos exist for protection of the newborn baby. Many ethnic groups hang a green branch in front of the house to exclude strangers and spirits from the house. Often a branch of a mulberry tree or a thorn branch is placed in a Viet baby’s room.
Amulets obtained from a pagoda or a temple and a knife are also hidden near the baby’s bedside. A small silver chain is hung around the baby’s neck to protect her from bad winds, according to the King and the Thai and from evil spirits according to the Hmong and the Yao. When a baby cries without reason the Viet burn a piece of a used traditional conical hat or a stick and gesture with a knife to chase away evil spirits. Other groups invite a ritual master to perform a rite. Even these strange things I find beautiful and mystical. The love and care in probably difficult and dangerous times in the past still manifest now.

Matrilineal Tradition In Vietnam’s Central Highlands the Ede, Mnong, Jarai, Coho, Churu and Raglai have a matrilineal tradition as do the Cham who live along the central plain. The old woman has an important place and a decisive role in family affairs. The bride and her family play the major role in the wedding. With some local differences, it is usual for men to live in their wife’s home and for children to take the mother’s name. Girls inherit family wealth and the youngest girl is the most privileged. Although every child is precious, girls are preferred. At the wedding of a daughter and to welcome their son-in-law, the bride’ parents have to offer the groom’s family compensation in the form of goods, which are determined between the two families. Although the groom lives with his wife’s family, he maintains responsibilities to his original family, especially in wedding rituals.

The wedding rituals are complex and totally different between the many Ethnic groups. They dedicate a whole section of the museum to this with their weird and wonderful customs but suffice to say they are all leaning towards the women (the children take the mothers surname for example)

Ede naming ritual Ede babies are named three days after birth. The ritual master says a name. If the baby cries on hearing it then another name is chosen. The Master dips a spike with bitter eggplant, Casapan bark and ginger into a bo dew and places it near the baby’s ear and blows wishes three times into her ears. At the end of the ritual he places bracelets and necklaces on the wrists and the necks of the child and her mother.

Mother Goddess

Aquatic Rice growing takes place in the plains in valleys or in terraced fields. In these areas, two or three rice crops are produced annually. Seedlings are transplanted into fields, Many tasks are traditionally undertaken by women such as transplanting and maintenance of the field. They also participate in harvesting and even in ploughing, which is normally a man’s job. Now the work is made easier with modern techniques.
Mountain populations traditionally use slash and burn farming techniques. The forest is cleared and then brushwood is burned. Men then use digging sticks to gouge holes in the earth while the women scatter seeds held in a little belt basket.
Rice is harvested by hand and cut stem by stem with a curved knife. Women there are be tough and multifaceted it’s a beautiful celebration of Vietnamese women.

Women ploughing and working the fields.

Preparing meals
For women preparing meals every day takes a lot of time. Women obtain the basic ingredients from fishing, foraging, agriculture or purchasing at the market. Hulling and winnowing rice and the storing and preservation of the food are always women’s work and they know the seasons for vegetables, fruit and animals. From very young age a girl learns to cook from her mother. She very quickly learns to cook rice, pickle vegetables and make alcohol. Each population has its own method of food preservation. Food is sun-dried, smoked in the fire, salted, pickled or preserved in fat. Obviously this is in the rural areas and the townies have modernised.

So before even contemplating how competent women have been throughout the ages in Vietnam in uniting for war effort, you can see how well they have cared for each other in every day life so they have advantage in this by their already established sisterhood .

This museum really opened my eyes and is a wonderful testament to the women past and present of Vietnam.