Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                      Copyright 1996 Vn-families

Issue #19. Funeral rites in Viet-Nam, Van Ngan, Vietnam Bulletin, June 

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
Please direct all questions to [email protected]
Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
Issue #6:  Traditional Vietnamese male attire, by Van Ngan, VB710208
Issue #7:  The legend of Princess Lieu Hanh, George F. Schultz, VB710215 
Issue #8:  The dialogue on Mount Na-Son, George F. Schultz, VB710222
Issue #9:  The secret housewife, George F. Schultz, VB710301
Issue #10: The golden axe, George F. Schultz, VB710308
Issue #11: Golden age of Viet Nam under the Hung Kings, Pham Tung, 
Issue #12: The legend of Chu Van Dich, George F Schutlz, VB701221
Issue #13: The sandalwood maiden, George F. Schultz, VB7010??
Issue #14: Legend about Emperor Ly Thai-To, George F Schultz, VB7010??
Issue #15. Chu Dong-Tu and Princess Tien Dung, George F. Schultz,
Issue #16. The husband's most difficult task: teaching his wife, 
           Van Ngan, VB 691216
Issue #17: Superstition in Viet Nam, Van Ngan, VB6911?? - May 8, 1996.
Issue #18: Hair: VN style, VB7007?? - May 15, 1996
Issue #19: Funeral rites in Viet-Nam, Van Ngan, VB7006?? - May 22, 1996.
Issue #20: "Non Bai Tho" or the "Poetical Leaf", ???, VB7011?? - 
           May 29, 1996,
                          FUNERAL RITES IN VIET-NAM
                                By Van Ngan

Saigon (MF)--The Vietnamese attach great importance to two traditional 
family obligations � to care for their parents in their old age and  to 
mourn them in death. These duties are felt so strongly, they are 
considered sacred.  The traditional time of mourning for parents is 
three years.  Mourning begins even before death is imminent. When death 
is about to take place, the entire family assembles around the dying 
relative.  A strict silence is observed.  The eldest son or daughter 
bends close to record the last words of advice or counsel.  At this 
time, the eldest child suggests a name for the dying person for it is 
considered unfortunate to continue the same name used in life after the 
relative has died.  Men usually take the name "Trung" which means 
faithfulness or "True" which means loyalty.  Women are usually called 
"Trinh" which means devotion or "Thuan" which means harmony.

According to ritual, when the parent has died, the children do not, as 
yet, accept the idea of death.  They place a chopstick between the teeth 
of the deceased and place the body on a mat on the floor in an effort to 
"bring it back to life".  The next rite in this tradition is for the 
eldest son or daughter to take a shirt the deceased has worn in life and 
to wave it in the air and call upon the soul of the dead to return to 
the body.  After this rite has been completed, the descendants then 
perform the ceremonial cleansing of the body.  The corpse is bathed 
which symbolizes washing off the dust of the terrestrial world; hair is 
combed and nails clipped.  Money, gold and rice are placed in the mouth 
of the dead to indicate that the deceased has left this world without 
want or hunger.  The corpse is then wrapped in white cloth and placed in 
a coffin.  Members of the family form a honor guard around the clock 
until a propitious time for burial is selected.

During the period of mourning, descendants wear special mourning 
clothing.  These garments are made of crepe of ample cut with a seam in 
the middle of the back.  All are required to cover their heads.  In 
times gone by when Confucianism was still a dominant influence in life, 
mourning the dead was considered more important than the affairs of the 
living.  A mandarin had to resign his position and retire to his home. 
He was expected to erect a tomb where the parent was buried and there 
conduct memorial ceremonies.  Mourners could not marry, comb their hair 
or have a haircut.  They were not permitted to eat good food or enjoy 
any form of entertainment whatsoever.

Recently, however, the severity of the mourning period has been 
abolished to a large extent.  After the funeral the descendants return 
to work and are no longer required to interrupt their business affairs.  
Clothing for the mourning period has been modified to only a piece of 
black cloth worn around the arm, lapel or the head.  Wedding ceremonies 
during the mourning period are still banned, but if the families have 
already approved of the engagement, special dispensation may be obtained 
through the proper rural or urban authorities.

In Communist occupied North Viet-Nam, all traditional funeral rites have 
been abolished.  When a death occurs, friends and neighbors are 
permitted only to extend their sympathy to the mourning family.  
Nevertheless, in some regions where Catholic influence is still 
prevalent, it is said that some of the ancient traditions are still in 

The Vietnamese writer Le Van Sieu explained the importance of 
traditional funeral ceremonies by saying:  "Funeral rites represent a 
traditional way of life to the Vietnamese people.  They are based on the 
concept of the indestructible soul and the close relationship between 
members of the same blood line.  By assuming this responsibility, 
generation after generation retains the strong fabric of our society".