Saturday, 5 March 2016

Hà Nội Report | Đền Thờ Bà Chúa Liễu Hạnh

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Ensconced way too comfortably in the Cathay Pacific lounge in Hong Kong's airport, I have the time to write of my last few days in Hà Nội.

The final Hầu Đồng ceremony I photographed was at the temple of Princess Lieu Hanh, to which I had never been before. The medium was a Hầu Đồng practitioner named Do Thi Bich Huong, and she had quite a presence. Some of her performances were new to me, including one where her incarnated spirit wore a flat straw hat and a shoulder pole, and sold small towels to the audience that had the photograph of President Obama and Mr Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam on their wrappers!

At the end of the two weeks of photographing Hầu Đồng Ceremonies, I've amassed the princely sum of VND 960,000 (about $43). This money is given to me by the various mediums officiating at the ceremonies I attended, and represent "blessed" gifts. I could probably retire on this income if I really wanted!

I also dropped by Hanoi's Centre of the Old Quarter's Culture Exchange to view Hàng Trống wooden-block paintings which depict rituals of ancestor worship, and various saints of the Đạo Mẫu (Mother Goddess) religion. The one in the above photograph is of General (and top saint in its pantheon of gods) Trần Hưng Đạo. He led the Đại Việt armies that repelled three major Mongol invasions in the 13th century, and his fame earned him a top spot in the Mother Goddess pantheon.

I had the idea of buying a commercial reproduction of a Hàng Trống painting for my forthcoming photo book Hầu Đồng: The Spirit Mediums of Việt Nam, but I had no time to find a gallery that carried them.