The Pull of Natural Forces (keo co)
across Vietnam play various forms of tug of war (keo co). The game is
always symbolically linked to the seasons, weather and crops. Tug of war
is a popular game for both children and adults since it requires no
particular skill or training.
However, the moment a competition begins, the viewers' noisy acclaim inspires the participants, increasing their zest to win.|
divide into two teams and stand face to face along a bamboo cord. A red
piece of cloth marks the middle of the cord, which is above a line
drawn with lime in the dirt. After a signal from the referee, players
tug the cord as hard as possible to pull the red cloth towards their
side. Eventually one team loses strength and let’s go of the cord; the
audience cheers the other team as winners.
Tug of war has become a
sport, but in many regions it still reflects traditional Vietnamese
beliefs. For example, in Tich Son Village, Vinh Phuc Province, tug of
war fur men only is held on the third day of the first lunar month after
Tet. Organizers arrange the cord in an east-west direction, evoking the
trajectory of the sun. Older men stand to the east, younger men to the
west. After three matches, the team that compels the other group to take
three steps forward is the winner. According to traditional belief, if
the eastern (older) team wins, the villagers will have bumper crops
throughout the year.
Therefore, the western team often
"volunteers" to lose. Spectators cheer their favorite team from outside a
circle drawn with lime. They toss into the air and pass around over
their shoulders any villager-old or young-who steps over the line,
whether inadvertently or from pushing.
In Huu Chap Village, Bac
Ninh Province, the tug of war takes place on the fourth day of Tet.
Players form two teams of unmarried boys and girls. The boys represent
the duong force (yang) and the dry season, while the girls represent am
(yin) and the rainy season. Although the boys are frequently stronger
than the girls, the girls often "win" the tug of war so that the rainy
season can outdo the dry season and the harvests that year will be
plentiful. The ritual meaning of the tug of war is even clearer among
the Thai ethnic minority.
Not long ago, Thai people in Con Cuong
District, Nghe An Province still performed a ritual called "pulling the
dragon's tail" as part of a prayer for rain. Thai people believe that
drought occurs because the dragon has overslept or is trapped
underground. Thus, they must extract the dragon by pulling its tail.
this end, villagers bury rice plants and an areca branch, which
represents the dragon's tail, in a 50-deep hole. Then they place a
hollow section of the areca branch over a neighboring hole to serve as a
drum. Since the dragon is a female, the person officiating is a woman
and should be a widow as the bearer of the rice plant's soul. The moment
surrounding villagers beat the drum, which symbolises thunder, the
woman tugs on an areca leaf to make the rice grow. One after another,
young girls come to help her, forming a long row. Finally, they liberate
the areca branch from the earth for an omen of good harvest.