I have always wanted to ask a puppet, in private, what it is like to be enslaved and forced to do its master’s bidding, subject to being cast away when another more appealing stage star comes along. In Vietnam, and south Asia in general, the puppet population is denser than in most places, but my queries of them there only drew docile, blank stares.
Given its vast “wet rice” producing history, Vietnam’s particularly unique art form of water puppetry originated as a form of entertainment, education and altar of communal folklore. The puppets are built out of wood and lacquered and the dance-opera shows are performed in a waist-high pool of water. A large rod beneath the water is used by the puppeteers, usually concealed behind a split bamboo screen, to support and control their serfs. Rice fields would flood and the villagers would entertain each other, and even engage in puppet show competitions between villages. This led to the establishment of exclusive and sometimes secretive puppet societies.