Then singing, also called Lau Then, is a traditional kind of ritual singing of the Nung. Then singing reflects the Nung’s religious life as well as their cultural values.
In the old days, whenever the Nung faced adverse and unexplainable phenomenon, they organized a worship ceremony to pray for their family’s peace, luck, health, and favorable production.
They invited a Then singer who performed the rituals of singing and playing a musical instrument.
She was seen as a fairy descending from Heaven, holding the Tinh musical instrument to make beautiful melodies while singing.
Her music and singing echoed high above the clouds to carry people’s wishes to the gods in Heaven.
Then singing ritual has gradually become a community get-together to set people’s minds at rest.
A Then ceremony often lasts for two days with many steps such as the worshiping of the ancestors and clearing the way for mandarins.
A Then singing session begins with a journey to heaven to invite the Jade Emperor and the spirits of Then masters to attend a “Lau Then” ritual.
The ceremony include various activities such as offering alcohol and worships to chase away evil spirits, relieve somebody of bad luck, and wish for good luck.
During the ceremony, Then singing is an endless religious epic narrating the journey to heaven to beg the gods to help the house’s owner to resolve a problem. Each part of the ritual is accompanied by specific music.
Hoang Van Pao, a folklorist in Lang Son province, said, “Then singing is always accompanied by a Tinh musical instrument and a fan. Initially it was a religious ritual. From about 1956 Then singing has evolved into a kind of community entertainment. Now we sing old Then and new Then songs. There are Then melodies for different events.”
Then singing has become a folk performance to tell religious stories through singing, playing music, and dancing.
Religious belief says that the Then ceremony and Then singing can cure diseases and create peaceful, happy, and positive feelings.
Then singing and the Tinh musical instrument have become cultural features of the Nung.
Then singing has been popularized to become a precious cultural asset of Vietnam. Then in each region has its own characteristics, but in general, they are melodious, romantic, and enticing.
Visiting every Nung village in Lang Son we may hear Then singing harmoniously mingling with the sounds of nature and the rustling wind in the forest.