By Russell Irving and Rathi Ramanathan
I’ve always wondered from afar how a small, pre-industrialized country with a largely illiterate, peasant population was able to withstand, and ultimately defeat, the enormous military might of America, one of the world’s biggest super powers. We can all agree this is an unlikely outcome for a David vs Goliath contest if there ever was one. The Vietnamese not only defeated the Americans, but also the French in the 1950s and the Chinese before that. Truly amazing.
There are few immediate clues for those first time visitors when meeting the quiet, unassuming, diminutive populace. Only when I visited the Women’s Museum of Hanoi was I able to unpack my questions as the museum did a wonderful job of shining a light on the core traits of the Vietnamese: the collective spirit, energy, resilience and work ethic.
Photographs of women in the villages, rice paddies and battlefields were best exemplified by the ‘work and be ready for combat’ slogan on a Communist propaganda poster. A graphic of women working the ancient buffalo drawn plough(s) in the field, smiling and singing, with Kalashnikovs (Russian guns) slung over their shoulders were insightful!
Far from being non religious as often is the general stereotype of communism, the Museum also had a whole level devoted to the religious and spiritual beliefs of the Vietnamese people. After all animism was a practice long before the political dogma of communism spread to Vietnam.
I learned Mother Goddess may be part of the reason for the strong role that women have always played in society and in times of war. The Mother Goddess is worshiped and the central belief behind the religion is that women are the centre of the universe, looking after all four regions: heaven, earth, water, mountains and forests.
Unlike other religious beliefs, worshippers find their expected desires and happiness right here in the earthly links to place and all living creatures that surround their lives. By following the Mother Goddess, their spiritual needs are satisfied.
“The Mother Goddess is a spiritual mother.We come to Her whenever we feel sad, we talk and share with Her. Whenever we face difficulties, we look for Her to find support and protection. The Mother means everything,” is a written display.
Believing that the Mother Goddess always protects and brings good health and good fortune to them, worshippers show their respect, by giving offerings to her. Service providers demonstrate their pure hearts through honest and reliable business practices.
The Hau Dong ritual is shown in solemn manners and exquisite etiquette. The ritual is also a performing art, telling the stories of deities in their incarnations. It sheds a light on the resilience of a populace dedicated and united in a common struggle, which is used to hardship as a result of, through centuries of colonisation, deprivation and hard work. After all there is nothing like having a common enemy for nationalism and patriotism to flourish
Viet Cong volunteer soldiers from the north marched for three months just to reach the front in South Vietnam where they went into battle fully equipped with a bag of rice, rifle, ammunition and grenades. Every article of war was carried on foot along this same trail by over a million volunteer porters.
A biography of the great Vietnamese General V Nguyen Giap is a reminder of the deeply entrenched arrogance of western colonial powers toward non-western countries and cultures, an attitude which ultimately led them to greatly underestimate their foe and face the losses they suffered.