Update: 08:40 | 14/09/2020
Just a short stroll from a provincial road lies Teng Village in mountainous Ba To District in the central province of Quang Ngai, the tranquil home of 200 families from the H’Re ethnic minority and a centre of brocade-making for generations.
Cement and bricks have gradually replaced timber as housing, but the brocade craft has survived from the efforts of a group of both young and old artisans.
Pham Thi Sung, 32, has turned her home into a showroom, displaying collections of H’Re brocade, gongs, and bamboo and rattan farming tools and kitchenware.
Two elderly H’Re artisans with their brocade in Teng Village, Ba To District.
She has been among the leading young artisans aiming to see brocade become a profitable tourism product since the H’Re craft was recognised as a national intangible heritage in 2019.
The trade has been preserved by four generations of her family and still provides a livelihood in the poor farming village. Craftswomen have maintained the skill but cotton and natural dye are no longer found locally.
Having a portable loom means that weaving can be done anywhere, anytime. “Women can carry a baby on their back while making brocade,” Sung said.
The craft is seen as a job for women that fits in with farming and housework. One piece of brocade, Sung said, can sell for VND400,000 (US$17.4), which is a tidy sum for three or four days of work.
Brocade is popular among the many ethnic groups in Vietnam but the H’Re boast unique patterns that make their products stand out from others.
According to cultural researcher Doan Ngoc Khoi, the brocade trade came about as the cultures of the Cham people and the H’Re people began to mix as the former grew their territory centuries ago.
The Cham, he said, found the Lieng River to be a peaceful place to settle as they expanded southwards. Pham Thi Thung, 82, an old artisan, said H’Re craftswomen had created their own style and patterns.
Animal footprints, leaves, flowers, and daily life are the subjects of the unique local designs, and brocade is considered a valuable possession that the H’Re keep throughout their life.
Craftswoman Pham Thi Thieu said a full-length brocade dress can cost VND800,000, with the cotton accounting for 30 per cent.
The village’s products, however, struggle in the face of poor marketing and a lack of diversity and promotion.
She added that brocade is not normally worn as a daily outfit but is common at H’Re festivals and other gatherings.
Young artisans have promoted the village craft online and on social networks to reach out to customers, fashion retailers, and other craft villages.
Vice director of the provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Huynh Thi Phuong Hoa, said the department launched a H’Re craft and culture preservation programme in Ba To District, and Teng Village is to be like a demonstration model of community-based tourism.
Pham Thi Sung shows off the brocade collection at her shop in Teng Village.
Farm trips are also being organised, she added, creating further links between travel agencies and the local community.
Doan Anh Duong, director of the Doan Anh Duong company, said a culture and exhibition fair was organised for the first time last year at the Quang Ngai Old Citadel and became a rendezvous point for ethnic groups living in mountainous districts in the province. It also acts as a venue for the sharing of cultures between ethnic groups and tourists and for promoting local crafts.
“We host the fair on the weekend in Quang Ngai City -- the provincial capital -- and create opportunities for ethnic groups to introduce their unique crafts, hand-made goods, and culture,” Duong said.
“Villagers can earn more from sales at the fair and also establish business links. The village is also an experiential tourist site that allows for cultural exploration of the ethnic community in the province,” she said.
The preservation of the craft and the training of skilled weavers, she added, will add tourism products to the village’s offerings, and the production of brocade should be diversified into useable and sellable products.
Artisan Sung, meanwhile, said Teng Village’s craft has yet to establish a reputation within the brocade network in central Vietnam, which includes 17 weaving teams from seven ethnic groups, including the Xo Dang, Ba Na, Ta Oi, Co Tu, and Ma from Da Nang, Quang Nam, Thua Thien Hue, Kon Tum, and Dak Nong.
“We plan to approach the network and create links with fashion outlets,” she said. “This would give the village’s craft an opportunity to take off.”