Sense of belonging

Parentage meetings, or hop ho, are a cohesive thread within the fabric of Vietnamese society.

By THUY DUONG on March 13,2018 10:20 AM

Sense of belonging

photos: THUY DUONG

Huu Dao, Chairman of the Dao Family Association of Dai Quan village in Dai Hung commune, Khoai Chau district in northern Hung Yen province, isn’t too sure when the first Dao parentage meeting was organised, but he remembers attending some his father arranged when he was a little boy. Now, at 65, Huu Dao has himself organised many Dao family parentage meetings.

Hop ho, or parentage (family-line) meetings, have long been being customary among people living in the rural areas of Vietnam’s north. One of the most striking features of Vietnamese culture is the sense of community. This is deeply rooted in the age-old tradition of helping extended family members and those from the same village or district. In the face of natural disasters and invasions, for example, this solidarity has proved invaluable to Vietnam.

The Dao family in Dai Hung commune accounts for about three-quarters of the population, meaning that almost everyone is related. One-quarter of the remaining population belong to the Do, Hoang, Nguyen and Cao families. Parentage meetings for these families are usually scheduled on a certain day of the year, mostly during Tet, when many family descendants who moved away to work return home.

‘For many families, parentage meetings are even more important than Tet and other important occasions such as anniversaries or funerals,’ said Thuan Dao, a member of the Dao family in Dai Hung commune who lives and works in Hanoi. ‘I might be unable to attend the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, but I rarely miss a parentage meeting.’

Sense of belonging

Traditionally, the Dao family’s parentage meeting in Dai Hung commune takes place on the 28th day of lunar December, or February 13 in the solar calendar this year, and was attended by about 500 of the family’s 4,000 members, including sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great-grandchildren. This year’s parentage meeting was even more special than last year’s, as the family had just welcomed the 21st generation a few days prior. This means that members of the 18th generation, despite being only 20 years old or so, have been promoted to the special role of ‘great-grandfather’ of the family line.

Hop ho give relatives the chance to meet and help each other in everyday life. Attachments to and love for their home towns is nurtured in many ways. ‘The aim is to keep members informed about their homeland, to visit it during Tet or at village festivals, search the archives for ancient documents [on village conventions, regulations, etc.], maintain and restore old architectural buildings, support and stimulate children to be excellent students, and to remind the younger generation about age-old traditions,’ said Huu Dao.

Family members also express their love in practical ways, by seeking to create a brighter future for their homeland as well as the family-line. Members contribute financially to socioeconomic development, together donating funds to improve roads, build houses for community gatherings, remodel ancestral places, and help family members in difficult circumstances. But it is in the field of education where the relatives make the biggest impact. No matter whether parentage societies are large or small or whether they are located in the northern, southern or central regions of the country, all have scholarship funds for needy students.

Members who live far away from their homelands have contributed intellectually to development as well as financially. ‘Since its establishments in the 1990s, members of the Dao society in Dai Hung who live in Hanoi have made their voice heard in the process of modernising Dai Hung commune,’ said Binh Dao, chairman of Dao parentage society in Hanoi. ‘Our members consult with the local government over policies and plans in many fields.’

There are basic differences between parentage societies in the north and the south. Those in the north tend to gather together hometown intellectuals whereas most members in southern societies are businesspeople, possibly explaining why societies in the south are famous for their financial support and those in the north for their intellectual and political contributions.

Being honoured at parentage meetings seems to drive many members of the family to contribute more to their community. The Dao members in Danang are pleased to have contributed financially to the reconstruction of three ancestral tombs over the past year, all of which were built from stone and cost some VND100 million in total. ‘Not only the wealthiest in the family are most honoured, however; that goes to the families with the most educated children,’ said Huu Dao.

Every year he must update the number of Bachelors, Masters and PhD holders in the family-line, which he presents to the parentage meeting. Families with children who passed the national university exams and individuals who reach academic excellence are recognised in his presentation and rewarded with funds by the venerable men in the family. This tradition has clearly helped promote education among people within the commune.

There are those, of course, who aren’t in favour of hop ho. ‘It takes such a long time and is a waste of money,’ one man complained. ‘We have to sit in silence for hours, listening to meaningless speeches from family leaders, and are then forced to drink rice wine at a noisy luncheon with hundreds of relatives.’ He confessed he has trouble remembering the names and faces of many members of his family due to large numbers who attend meetings. ‘I’m “allergic” to the word “parentage meeting”, because for me it means “raising money”,’ he went on. “The society has so many expenses and funds to establish.’ But all diamonds have flaws, and parentage meetings are certainly one of the jewels in the crown of Vietnamese culture and society.

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