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Water puppetry's design in Phu Hoa village

According to village history, water puppetry orginated at the Thay Pagoda, where it was introduced by the revered monk Tu Dao Hanh in the 11th century. The centuries old tradition still thrives in Phu Hoa, where the puppet guild — consisting of 20 members — meets to perform water puppetry in the annual village festival.

Individuals who want to join the guild must meet certain criteria: follow ancestors, have a real passion for the puppets and be of good moral standing. The village elders also set one other requirement that still exists today: the techniques for creating water puppetry must not be transmitted to outsiders — or to daughters. This keeps the puppet artistry to male offspring as per the tradition.

Phu Hoa villagers design the puppets in a unique way: each puppet wears a loin-cloth and has a plump Buddha-like face. It takes a designer several weeks to make a puppet from start to finish.

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