Vietnamese Traditional Toys

Children learn by taking an imitation of whatever happens in the world around them. Children’s games change with time. However, a glimpse into the country’s traditional toys does give us an image of Vietnam’s past culture.

Vietnamese archaeologists have found toys for children as long as 4,000 years ago. Clay marbles and statues carved from stone have been unearthed in Vietnam. There are even images of children’s playthings inscribed on ancient bronze Dong Son drums.

Mid-Autumn Festival and lion-dance

In the past, Vietnamese children grew up in a natural manner. From an early age, they were expected to help in family’s form-works. Their life faced a lot of hardships due to natural disasters and wars. At that time, people had little time to spare on entertainment, and children played with toys made from all possible materials within reaches such as wood, leaves, bamboo, clay and paper.

Children’s toys, then, were primitive, but they did play an important role in educating children’s sense of respect for nature and their community spirit.

Traditional toys are diverse among which rotation drums are very prevalent. This kind of toy is made of paper stretching across one side of a clay hoop to form a drum head, often decorated with a star painted on top. The drum-head is then attached to a straight bamboo handle, which is used to twist, by two wires. As the toy turns, a “drum stick”, suspended between the two wires by a rubber band, repeatedly, hits the drum-head, making loud clicking or drumming noises.

Bamboo boat is a very simple toy made from thick bamboo splint folded in the middle. A stick is threaded through holes drilled in each side of the split to form an A shape. An elastic band is attached to the foot of this A and a small, flat piece of wood is secured in the center of the band. The child twists the rubber band and releases the craft. As the elastic band unwinds, the flat stick spins, pushing the boat forward. People may see children playing with these toys on puddles formed by summer showers.

During mid-autumn festivals, lion head masks can be found everywhere in lions dances, an exciting part of any Vietnamese festival. The lion head is made from painted paper mach. Two pieces of mirror are passed on for eyes, a long tail of red cloth is glued on and bright synthetic fibers serve as a mane instead of one-time rabbit fur or cotton wool. During the dance, one person wears the lion head while others wave the long tail. The lion is accomplished by other dancers dressed in clown masks, and together, they dance to the beat of a pounding drum.

Another kind of traditional toys is the steam boat. These toys are made from tin cans. They can be very elaborate, with details like flags, chimneys and cannons. The main wonder of a steam boat, however, is that it actually moves. Below deck, there is a tiny container of diesel, which is lit to heat a second box, full of water. Kids love the gurgling noises as the steam activates the boat.

Phoc Gun is a typical boy’s toy, most popular at early summer time. Although it is called a “gun”, it is of no danger, and can help kids develop hand coordination.

The bullets are small nuts or balls of rolled paper and the cylinder are small, the hollow bamboo tube of not more than 5mm. A second round stick, which acts as a piston is fitted into this tube. To load the toy, the child pushes a bullet through the hollow tube to the lip of the barrel. A second bullet is placed just inside the gun’s mouth and quickly pushed so that the air inside the tube is compressed. The first bullet flies out with a sharp “phoc”, or popping noise, which gives the toy its name.