The Lim Festival

Quan ho Folk Song Festivals are organized every year in 49 villages of the former Kinh Bac province (which now account for a majority of villages in Bac Ninh province). They begin on the 4th day of the 1st lunar month and end in the second half of the 2nd lunar month, lasting for nearly two months. In addition, in the autumn, or during the ceremony dedicated to the tutelaries of various villages and on other merry-making occasions, the Quan ho Folk Song Festival is also held among villages that have entered into a Quan ho relationship.
As distinct form song exchanges in other places, the Quan ho Folk Song Festival is tightly organized. The participants must belong to groups of singers that have entered into a brother-sister relationship: a number of male singers organize “a group of Quan ho male singers”. After visiting a festival several times, the group tries to find a similarly organized group of female Quan ho singers whose performance is to its liking; then, the group of Quan ho male singers makes an offer for a brother-sister relationship. If the offer is accepted, both groups organize a solemn but simple ceremony. A representative of the male group, carrying a tray of betel leaves and areca nuts visits the family of the representative of the female group to seek her parents’ permission for the relationship. With the permission of the parents, both groups perform a ceremony at the communal house, in which they officially announce the establishment of this relationship to the tutelary gods and to the village of the female group. Then, the female group of Quan ho singers visits the village of the male group, where both groups exchange songs for a whole night, while enjoying the warm hospitality of the host village. Each group can now call each other “Quan ho brothers” and “Quan ho sisters”. Individual members of each group refer to his or her partners in the other group as “Elder brother”, “Second brother”… or “Elder Sister”, “Second Sister”, and both would sing together at festivals. They also support each other, during both happy and sad times. However, inter¬marriage is, in general, not encouraged.
Depending on the traditions and space availability of various villages, Quan ho Folk Song Festivals can be held indoors, in the yard of the communal house, at the pagoda, in large land spaces or on boats being softly rowed down the river. In addition to Quan ho folk songs, village festivals also contain other traditional games and entertainments, contests, fairs and other cultural activities.
Lung Giang village (of Noi Due commune, Tien Son district) ranks first among the above-mentioned 49 villages in organizing Quan ho Folk Song festivals. Since Lim Hill is located in this village, its Quan ho Folk Song festival is also called as Lim Festival. In order to attend the Lim Festival, head north from Ha Noi, follow Highway N°. 1 for 24 km to Lim Railway station, which is a few hundred metres away from Lim Hill.
The Lim Festival opens on the 13th day of the 1st lunar month. It has become the leading Quart ho Song festival, because many famous Quan ho song villages take part in it.
The opening date of the Festival is related to a legend: a native woman of the eastern hamlet of Noi Due commune, named Ba Mu, became a Buddhist monk at the Lim Pagoda and, after a while, attained enlightenment. When a serious drought hit the village, the inhatibants came to the pagoda and begged her for assistance and the drought was ended. As a result, the villagers of Lung Giang, alias Lim village, worshipped her as their Village Spirit Protector and took the date of her enlightenment for the date of their Festival.
Elaborate preparations are made several months in advance for the Lim Festival: intense training is done by individual groups of male and female singers, then several song exchanges are performed on a trial basis by brother- sister groups, and invitations to attend the festival are sent to famous Quan ho song groups.
Groups of Quan ho singers come to the Lim festival dressed in their best and with a distinctive style: young men wear black long silk gauze dresses, long white pants, black turbans, while girls wear traditional long red crepe dresses provided with colored trimmings, red bras, rosy belt, golden ear rings, and key chains.
There are two performance patterns in Lim Quan ho Song festivals: Quan ho teams or individual singers who contribute to the festival sing in open air spaces and around the Lim Hill, whereas groups who have entered into a brother-sister relationship sing indoors.
Indoor performances involve elaborate preparations and great hospitality. A host and a hostess provide Quan ho food (paid for by the singers), tea, betel and a convenient and clean room. After the ceremony in honour of Lord Buddha, the visiting Quan ho singer group is escorted to the house of the host party. An exchange of songs begin at the entrance to the house. Songs of greetings are performed by the visitors, welcome songs by the host singers. Then, both groups enter the room and sit on long benches or beds located opposite one another. The song exchanges begin in earnest. The Quan ho Song exchange is multifaceted, involving analogies, questions and answers, and quizzes on a myriad of subjects. As a rule, all messages must be in the songs, occasionally allowing for verbal explanation. During lunch, the host singers must accompany their partners, offer them food and, again, songs. In the afternoon, the visiting singers are asked to continue the song exchange until midnight when there would be recess and a tea party. Thereafter, the song exchange go on until dawn, when guests and hosts and hostesses, again in the form of songs, bid farewell and express the hope to meet again some time in the future.
In addition to singing performances, the Lim Festival involves many such as the swing, human chess, wrestling and more. It is also a traditional opportunity for young men and women to see life partners. But the Quan ho singers remain the most striking feature of the festival: the elegant dresses, men holding umbrellas, women wearing traditional large flat hats with colourful belts, the discreet manners, and the use of song as a way of approaching one another. If the overtures appear promising (both groups see the possibility of fruitful cooperation), the exchange of songs begins in earnest. Otherwise, each groups proceeds to search for another possible partner group.

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