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Ancestors worship: can women take full responsibility instead of men?

In the North of Vietnam, men play a major role in ancestor worship. A practice showing love and respect to the deceased family members. However, in a small village in Bac An Commune, Chi Linh City (Hai Duong Province), women do this work.
Ancestor worship is one of the most ancient beliefs of Vietnam and is handed down through generations. According to the old concept, men are responsible for burning incense and praying in front of the altar, while women prepare food, wine, hell notes,…. Assigning this duty to men has become a habit, even a cultural norm, leading many couples to attach importance to the birth of a son.

According to researchers from the Institute for Social Development Studies, up to 72.43 percent of women in the North, out of a total of 8,424 people surveyed, believe that the family requires a son to worship ancestors. Even though they are all descendants, there is a clear distinction between men’s and women’s roles.
However, there is a family in Loc Da Village, Bac An Commune, Chi Linh City (Hai Duong) who believes that worship is performed by women and men who help with the preparation.

The family of Mr. Tran Thanh Ha is one of such families. His family has a son, but the worshiping and burning incense on anniversaries, full moons, Tet… are all done by women, whether they are daughters or daughters-in-law. The women in the family all learn the rituals of burning incense and praying. In contrast, men are in charge of preparation. On special family occasions, men are also the ones who cook food and clean up. This can be seen as a different point from most families in North Vietnam.
According to Mr. Ha, the reason for this difference is that at first, most of the local men often went away to work, while only the women stayed at home. Therefore, everything is handled by women. Although not specifically stored in the genealogy, this has long become a habit and lifestyle of the people here.
With such a difference in living habits, Mrs. Pham Thu Uyen, the daughter-in-law of Mr. Ha and Mrs. Thu said that she was quite surprised when she first returned to her husband’s house. Regarding inheriting this special family “tradition”, she said that “whoever performs the ceremony is not really important because in a family, the son and daughter both have needs and responsibilities to worship parents, grandparents and ancestors alike. What’s really essential is the heart.”

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According to Professor, Dr. Ngo Duc Thinh – Director of the Center for Research and Preservation of Vietnamese Culture and Belief, said that the Law of Hong Duc under the Le Dynasty mentioned about women’s right in divorcing and being inherited property, namely incense, fire and worship, which proves the importance of women in preparing offerings and taking care of the table in each family.
As a matter of fact, worship is not always the responsibility of men or women in this family, and the same is true for chores. Mr. Ha’s family, unlike other Vietnamese families, places a higher priority on descendants’ filial piety for his father. His family believed that gratitude, recollection, and honesty for those who have contributed to birth and upbringing are the most important, whether son or daughter, daughter-in-law or son-in-law.

The narrative implies that women’s roles are becoming progressively improved and equal in terms of rights and responsibility. It is both their right and their responsibility to honor their ancestors. This is also a way for families without sons to preserve and continue their traditional beliefs today.

Ancestor worship is an ancient tradition of Vietnam, regardless of religious affiliation. The practice of ancestor worship stems from the conception of the living and the continued existence of the dead. Almost every family has ancestor altars and incense burner bowls. People have a sacred belief that, although their ancestors have died, their souls still exist, have the ability to protect and help their descendants, which is expressed through worship rituals. It is gratitude, remembrance and worship of those who have contributed to the birth, creation and protection of life such as: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.…

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