Sacred Texts  Asia  Index  Previous  Next 

The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at

Rearing Vietnamese Children

The number of children in a family and its economic status are unrelated in Vietnamese thinking. There is a proverb which translates, "God created the elephant and He created the grass", meaning that the size of the family is not humanly regulated.

This may be related to the Confucian concept that the chief purpose of marriage is to insure sufficient sons to perpetuate Ancestor Veneration. One of the greatest worries to the Vietnamese is the possibility that there will be no male descendents to preserve and honor the family name.

Just inside many Vietnamese homes is a niche for the figure of Doai Cung Thanh Mau who is regarded as the patron of Vietnamese mothers. There is also a goddess of procreation and birth as well as one who is the patron of "wet nurses". This latter goddess, whichever of her names is used, is consulted to protect the baby once it is born.

Among the Vietnamese some spirits are feared because they might steal the baby away. These spirits must be either avoided or appeased in some manner.

Sometimes the sorcerer or the various goddesses of the Taoists, Confucianists, or Buddhists are utilized. Even seeking the protection of the "Christian" God until their children have passed the critical age is not uncommon. While these customs vary depending upon geographical location and economic class, they are still practiced in Vietnam.

Vietnamese women, while having many of the same behavior patterns of the South Chinese, do not normally carry their babies on their backs, but in their arms. One of their sayings on the subject is, "Carry a baby as you would carry an egg and lift it as delicately as picking a lovely flower".

This concern for children has an interesting taboo in that a baby is never supposed to be carried across the threshold lest it should be stunted; rather, the baby is handed to someone already across the threshold and then taken back again after crossing. Because of the high mortality rate of children, the common Vietnamese folk take great care to guard their children while small from all possible types of evil spirits. For instance, any deceased maiden aunt is given a special place on the ancestor shelf during the time the child is small, for if her spirit is not appeased it may carry the child away.

p. 75

Sometimes the sorcerer advises that her bones be reburied in a more favorable place. Likewise the spirit of stillborn children is greatly feared lest life be snatched away to give one of them life. Similarly, a bad name might be given the baby to fool the spirits, or a boy might be called by a girl's name for the same reason. In contrast to the American custom of remarking how healthy or lovely a child is, the Vietnamese fear to do this lest it excite an evil spirit who will then harm the child. Many similar customs have also been found in European histories of past centuries, but due to a more scientific understanding of sickness, death and health, most Americans find these Vietnamese customs "quaint".

Next: Legend of Quan-Am