Road to Mid-Autumn Festival: When the lions pounce

By Vo Thanh, Van Pham   September 11, 2016 | 06:00 am GMT+7

Enter the lions' den to discover the secrets of the beasts that will dance through the streets of Vietnam next week.

Last week was all about Vietnam’s National Day, and this week, all eyes are on the Mid-Autumn Festival which falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (September 15 in this year's Gregorian calendar).

Agreed to be second only to the Lunar New Year Festival when it comes to importance, the day is not short of festivities full of the Mid-Autumn spirit. Lion dancing (‘mua lan’ in Vietnamese) is arguably the strongest rival for the most expected thing on the night the moon shines the brightest.

The dance can be found across Asia but may have lost part of its exotic charm due to the rise of Chinatowns in cities worldwide where the performance has become common-place. Vietnam, which shares much of its culture with China, has lion dance crews on every street during the Mid-Autumn Festival, prowling to the drumbeat and claps and cheers of passers-by.

Just a tip: usually the idea of a lion stopping by at your house may not sound like the luckiest thing in the world, but in this instance prepare for a year of prosperity if a lion comes a-calling. Today, we guide you to the birthplace of these talismanic animals.

At the beginning this lunar month, the traditional lion workshops in Hue are all finishing their proud products and ready to ship them to customers. The lion head molds are made from cement. Layers of paper are then added. All the finishing steps are also taken on these molds.

At the beginning of this lunar month, the traditional lion workshops in Hue are finishing up their proud products. The lion head molds are made from cement, and then layers of paper are added. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

The lion manufacturing starts as early as the second month of the lunar calendar (around February and March) for the product to be ready right before the Mid-Autumn Festival, according to Nguyen Sinh Anh, 43, Hue, a craftsman with 20 years of experience in making lion head.

The process starts as early as the second month of the lunar calendar (around February or March) so the costumes are ready right before the Mid-Autumn Festival, according to Nguyen Sinh Anh, 43, a Hue craftsman with 20 years of experience. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Paper used to make the lion head has to go through water before getting added to the cement mold. The paper head will then dry until hard.

Paper used to make the lion head has to be soaked in water before being layered on the cement mold. The paper head will then dry until hard. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

The decoration is considered to be of utmost importance which requires a bit more than just a craftsman. Handled wrongly, and everybody will have the best mid-autumn ever laughing at the kitten dancing around.

The design is considered of the utmost importance and it's reserved for the best craftsmen. Handled wrongly, and everybody will have the "best" mid-autumn ever laughing at the dancing kitten. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

road-to-mid-autumn-festival-when-the-lions-pounce-4

Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Lions eyes in the making

Lions' eyes in the making. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Last check before shipping

Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

At the moment, there are over 10 families manufacturing lion head.

Last check before shipping. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Each mid-autumn, Anhs workshop churns out an average of 3,000 lion heads, shipped mostly to Hanoi and Nghe An Province. The price for a standard head is around VND35,000 ($1.57), but some bespoke ones in big size can claim up to $50.

At the moment, there are over 10 families making lion heads in Hue. Each mid-autumn, Anh’s workshop churns out an average of 3,000 lion heads, shipped mostly to Hanoi and Nghe An Province. The price for a standard head is around VND35,000 ($1.57), but some of the larger bespoke designs can claim up to $50. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Now that you know how it's made, let's see how it rolls.

Photo by Thai Pham Tuyet Phuong/VnExpress Vocations in 21st century competition

Photo by Thai Pham Tuyet Phuong/VnExpress "Vocations in 21st century" competition

road-to-mid-autumn-festival-when-the-lions-pounce-11

Photo by Thai Pham Tuyet Phuong/VnExpress "Vocations in 21st century" competition

road-to-mid-autumn-festival-when-the-lions-pounce-12

Photo by Thai Pham Tuyet Phuong/VnExpress "Vocations in 21st century" competition

Related news:

Glass paper lanterns 'reborn' in Saigon

> Strange religious practices during Vietnam's 'Halloween month'

> Vietnamese burn private jets, fancy cars and villas for their ancestors

 
 
go to top