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Behind the village gate (October 02, 2004)

The images of a banyan tree, a wharf, a communal house’s yard and a village gate have long been symbols of rural Vietnam which stay in a village person’s memory for their whole life. For those who are living far away from their native village, once they see their old village gate, they know that they are home again.

For people living in rural areas, the village gate plays a sacred role in their lives. Professor Ngo Tien Thinh, Director of the Institute for Vietnamese Traditional Culture Research said: "A village is home to a group of people, surrounded by hedges of bamboo trees, which protect villagers from robbers and enemies. There is always a gate leading in and out from the enclosed village. Some villages have only one gate, some have two, that follow into the village lanes. The village gate has a special architectural form that has long been associated with rural areas".

The village gate represents various customs and traditions and is a constant witness to the running course of local history. Villagers pass the gate to return to their homes. The gate also witnesses local people’s joys and sorrows throughout their lives. Whether it’s a wedding ceremony with several trays of betel and areca nuts and gifts covered by red cloth or a funeral, people always have to lower their fruit trays or coffins one more time out past that village gate, which is so closely associated with their lives.

Each village has its own gate with its own architecture and style but they all share a strong and grand architectural form. The name of the village can be seen on its gate. People decorate the body of their village gate with a kind of ornamental tree or the image of flying dragons and phoenix together with parallel sentences in Chinese characters that praise those who have made great contributions to the village.

The construction of the village gate follows thorough consideration. It is always located at a sacred place, as it is believed to have a great impact on the development of the village. Some very old and typical village gates remain until this day in the northern province of Ha Tay and are of great interest to foreign visitors. In the villages, which were home to mandarins, there’s always a stone stele next to the village gate, signalling people to step down from their horse before passing the gate. In the villages which had prominent scholars who passed the royal court examinations with flying colours, the village gate often carries some parallel sentences to encourage younger generations to study.

Every morning, the activities of the villagers can be seen from the village gate. Farmers stop here to relax, chat and share a cup of green tea after a day of hard work. The quiet village gate carries with it not only the joys and sorrows of the villages but also the secrets of the village’s life and history.

As time passes, some village gates are being neglected or torn down due to the urbanisation and modernisation process. However, many have been carefully preserved. In the major urban centre of Hanoi, some old-aged village gates remain as beautiful reminders of Hanoi’s long history.

According to Professor Thinh, the preservation of village gates can serve as important reminders of importance of traditional cultural values.

"The village gate should be considered as a precious cultural heritage as it represents our predecessors’ lives", Mr Thinh said. "In some localities, people feel the need to conserve the image of their native village."

Reprinted from VOV News


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