Nobody knows for sure the origin of Vietnamese proverbs and folk songs in terms of their inception and authors. Vietnamese proverbs and folk songs, however, are orally transmitted and incessantly edited throughout generations.
By this virtue, the proverbs and folk songs become so natural and clear that they are able to describe our customs and traditions simply and truthfully. For that reason, these proverbs and folk songs are also dubbed as Vietnamese popular literature, which proliferates by thousands of phrasings on all topics of various aspects of human life in society.
Like in other countries, Vietnamese proverbs state basic principles of folk wisdom and conduct, which have become an essential and enduring part of daily speech. They are short, succinct sayings with an intended meaning, which is to instruct or advise about something worthy of our attention. Most of Vietnamese parents use proverbs to educate their children about basic moral tenets of conduct and behavior. These proverbs are usually formed with or without rhym (E.G. An cay nao, rao cay ay : one shall cultivate the tree from which one eats fruits . An qua nho ke trong cay : when eating the fruit, one should remember those who planted the tree). The common topics of proverbs are as follows, addressing routine issues of our society’s customs and traditions such as interpersonal psychology, common experiences, moral precepts, and conduct and etiquette of politeness:
Customs and traditions: “One bite of honor earned in public is better than a banquet given in one’s own kitchen”
Real life psychology: “With love, everything becomes beautiful, with hatred, everything turns ugly”
Common experiences: “When lightning flashes relentlessly in the east, it is absolutely going to rain in the early morning (when rooster crows)”
Human maturity moral: “Good reputation is preferable to beautiful clothes”
Conduct and etiquette of politeness: “When sending a personal message, speak out; when asking people to deliver a wrapped gift to someone, leave it unsealed”.
These are short ballads, written in rhythm or iambic pentameter in stanzas. Folk songs are spread among common people from one generation to the next, and nobody knows their authentic authors. It is certain that folk songs are formed by multitude of composers who get inspired and let their strong feelings flow out in the form of poetry; then other people try to memorize the poems and pass them on to the public. Therefore, there is a countless number of folk songs, probably hundreds of thousand ones. There are so many generations of Vietnamese children whose mothers sing them to sleep with these types of folk songs and help them grow maturely by the profound influence of the folk songs. Also, there are so many generations of Vietnamese young adults who get married by borrowing folk songs in flirtation. Folk songs indeed manifest every fiber of the human touch deep in one’s heart and various situations of society as well. The following are some examples:
The fatherly immense toil is as big as ThaiSon mountain
The constant motherly devotion is similar to the stream of water flowing out from spring,
You ought to honor your parents with all your heart
In order to decently fulfill the solemn precept of filial piety
Going on road, be cautious of Ai Van mountain pass
Going by boat, be cautious of the path of billow at Hang Doi Bay
Missing you, I wanted to come to see you,
But I was afraid of The Ho’s groves, and the Tam Giang cross river
The Tam Giang cross river is dried up nowadays
And the grove is on watchful guard.
You are leaving, I won’t let you go
I hold your dress flap to write a verse on it
The verse clearly exhibits the three words
Loyalty, piety, and love
The word loyalty to honor the father
The word piety to adore the mother, the word love for both of us.
Why do you, young lady, cut grass alone,
Let me join you as a couple,
Do you still continue cutting more grass?
Let me help you cutting it to become a married couple.
Due to the limit of this short writing, we can not afford to cite more examples. We are certain, however, that the proverbs and folk songs are indeed the common literature treasures of Vietnamese people: It is a common way of composing them and transmitting them from one generation to the next, and common as well in sharing the didactic values of these common treasures. The proverbs and folk songs play a significant role in providing the very first teachings on the ethical way of human conduct or individual behavior, and even knowledge on how to deal with the life situation, large and small. Particularly folk songs bring pleasure as well as entertainment to daily life with their dignified verses of courtship and romantic love. Proverbs and folk songs are truly a priceless thesaurus of Vietnamese people. It is certain to say that none of the Vietnamese can remember all of the proverbs and folk songs, but it’s also true that none can say they do not remember some.