Viet Nam News
by Phương Anh
Antique collectors in Cần Thơ Province have dubbed Tạ Hòa Thọ, 57, “an owner of Óc Eo Culture’s Treasure” for his passion for collecting antiques belonging to the ancient culture.
Óc Eo is the name of an archaeological site in Thoại Sơn District in southern An Giang Province in the Mekong River Delta. Based on the artifacts unearthed, archaeologists guessed that the area used to be a busy port of the kingdom of Phù Nam between the first and seventh centuries. They used the term "Óc Eo Culture" to refer to the ancient material culture of the Mekong Delta region.
Born in the southern province of Đồng Tháp, Thọ was interested in archaeology but did not have the means to pursue it academically.
Thirty years ago, during his visit to temples in the Bảy Núi and Ba Thê regions of An Giang Province, Thọ met a local farmer who had unearthed a 1.1m-high bronze Kuan Yin statue with 10 heads and 20 arms.
After making certain that the statue dated back to the 13th century, Thọ became determined to buy it. The statue was the first ancient object that he purchased.
"That night, I was too excited to fall asleep,” he recalled. “I thought it was my destiny to collect Óc Eo antiques throughout my life.”
His wife is also interested in Óc Eo antiques and is as willing as him to sell all their property in exchange for rare antiques to preserve the Óc Eo heritage and display them to the public, instead of selling them for profit.
In the past 30 years, Thọ has travelled to various localities, including Đồng Tháp, An Giang, Kiên Giang and even Cambodia, to hunt for antiques.
“Whenever I hear of antiques such as stone, wooden or bronze statues unearthed somewhere, I rush to the site,” he said.
He has also collected material on the Óc Eo and Phù Nam cultures to understand the subject, in addition to seeking more knowledge from experts.
So far, Thọ has gathered more than 700 antiques of various kinds, including valued objects such as a set of weapons made from stone; a stone statue of Hari Hara, which is 1.5m in height and 90kg in weight dating back to the 12th century; a stone statue of Vishnu; and other rare objects made of bronze, terracotta and wood.
Thọ plans to move his collection to his daughter’s house in HCM City and open a private museum focusing on the Óc Eo Culture, as he is getting weak due to heart disease.
“I have collected Óc Eo antiques to preserve them for future generations,” he said. “I haven’t sold any objects I bought, even a single small piece.”
“Yet, I’m willing to lend my ‘treasure’ to museums for exhibitions, so that more people know about the ancient culture,” he said. — VNS