AS REQUIRED: Nguyễn Anh Sáu and his family often make products under order from fishing families and tourists. – Photo quangninh.gov.vn
By Thanh Giang
The Hưng Học traditional craft village in Nam Hòa Ward in Quảng Yên Town, Quảng Ninh Province, secured a name for itself over the course of a hundred years and more for making durable and attractive fishing gear from bamboo and wood.
Items such as bamboo boats, fishing baskets, fish cages, and other fishing gear are still bought by fishermen near and far but the craft village is in danger of falling into oblivion despite its preservation efforts.
On a visit to the village, we saw some beautifully decorated houses making sophisticated fishing gear as well as industrial workshops adjacent to rivers and canals making bamboo boats.
According to Nguyễn Anh Sáu, who has 40 years of experience in the traditional craft, the reason the village’s fishing gear is famous is because of the sophistication that comes from selecting the best raw materials. Along with quality workmanship and attention to detail, the strips of bamboo or wood used to make the fishing gear are carefully hand-cut. Products from Nam Hòa are therefore not only durable but also beautiful.
Sáu is considered a skilled craftsman in the village, with unique creativity. In addition to fishing gear, he also makes beautiful miniature bamboo boats for sale to tourists. His house is also the most appealing destination in the village.
Three generations of Đặng Thị Thắm’s family have produced many different types of fishing gear, of which bamboo boats are the hardest because the quality greatly depends on the weather.
“Making a fishing boat involves many steps — selecting the bamboo, whittling strips of bamboo or wood and weaving them into frames, coating the bamboo with tar, and drying everything,” she said.
Vũ Văn Hùng has been in the profession for nearly 30 years. While it takes a long time to make something like a fishing basket, the selling price is low and the profit margin slim.
But he is nonetheless determined to continue the craft. His family spends a lot of their time making bamboo boats and have been applying scientific advances to increase durability.
“There was a time when a lot of people were involved in the occupation, but not now,” he said. “The village’s young prefer other jobs, so it’s mostly only older people still working in the craft. My family still does it, as it is our profession. While I make bamboo boats and fishing gear, though, my wife works in another industry altogether.”
According to Đàm Chí Thiết, deputy head of the Economic Department in Quảng Yên Town, Hưng Học has more than 500 households but only 60, with about 300 people, make fishing gear, earning about VNĐ5 million (US$215) per person each month.
“Because the majority of young people prefer other jobs, it’s become quite difficult to employ workers,” Thiết said. “Quảng Yên plans to adopt many measures to preserve and develop traditional crafts from 2021 to 2025, including Hưng Học’s fishing gear.”
The town is re-planning production issues, with display shops advertising local products and promoting sales. It will combine the preservation and development of its craft villages with eco-tourism and spiritual tourism, to attract more visitors. Other types of services can then be developed as well.
Training courses will be held to improve traditional occupations, with products made for fishing, transport, and tourism.
Craftsman Sáu was very happy to learn that the town had started a project to preserve and develop its traditional craft villages.
“We remain enthusiastic and confident about our craft,” he said. “But it is difficult to make ends meet. We want to keep our jobs, so we hope that local leaders will give us the support we need to modernise our production methods. As well as making bamboo boats, fishing gear, and other agricultural tools, we also make souvenir items.”
But Sáu is concerned by the reality that young local people just don’t want to follow in his footsteps.
“Nam Hòa’s fishing gear, especially our bamboo boats, have long been trusted by customers everywhere,” he said. “I can still earn a good living. A small bamboo boat can sell between VNĐ300,000 and 1 million. My house often has local and foreign tourists visiting. But my children just aren’t interested in learning the craft.”
Similar to Sáu, three generations of Nguyễn Văn Thinh’s family have been involved in the craft.
“People in my generation could try their hand at other jobs, but love their traditional craft and are trying to keep it going. Economic interest is only part of it — if we didn’t love the job we wouldn’t be pursuing it and trying to improve it,” Thinh said.
“It’s actually quite a hard work, and I’m not sure either of my two children wants to be among the next generation of craftsmen. To do this job you must be passionate, and that can’t be forced on anyone.”
With plans in place to make the Hưng Học fishing gear village and others like it attractive tourist destinations and with the gradual implementation of a project to preserve and develop traditional craft villages in Quảng Yên Town, hopefully more and more people will return or stay so that these centuries-old occupations continue well into the future. – VNS