Viet Nam News
BẾN TRE —Tiên Tây Vàm Village in the Mekong Delta province of Bến Tre is notable not only for its delicate wooden products, but also for the artisans who make them. Here, women are - or were -known for their skills in the male-dominated carpentry profession.
Tạ Thị Thu Vân, 57, began her career as a carpenter 36 years ago when she married a man in the village.
“When I got married at 21 years old, all I knew was following, helping and learning from my husband,” she said. “After two years of practicing, I became a professional.”
According to her husband Lê Văn Phương, head of Tiên Tây Vàm Village’s carpentry group, most woman in the village have considerable expertise in carpentry. They saw, chisel, shave and assemble assemble wooden products. A skilled artisan can build a standardised bed frame on her own.
“My wife mastered all the techniques. In her heyday, she could build one or two big bed frames all on her own. With a saw in her hand and her foot put on a dais, she looked like all of us,” Phương said.
The craft was sometimes difficult for her, Vân said, because bed-frames are quite heavy and she is a small person. But she balanced her carpentry work with keeping house and taking care of their children. At present, Vân is enjoying retirement, as poor health prevents her from doing other work.
In the last two years, Tiên Tây Vàm has witnessed a population decline. The only skilled female carpenter still working is struggling to maintain the craft.
Hà Mỹ Truyền, 47, has 15 years of experience in making wooden products. A hard life motivated her to pursue the career.
“In the early days, the fear of hurting myself or damaging clients’ wood discouraged me. As I could not chisel neatly, my husband guided me by drawing borders on timber for me to follow,” she said.
In a small workshop, Truyền and her husband pay careful attention to finish customers’ orders. While her husband specialises on sawing and shaving, she is responsible for chiselling and assembling products.
“We can now make two to three bed frames every three days. In the past, we could complete two products in just one day,” she said.
In a few moments, ten pieces of timber were all cut to size. Soaked in sweat, Truyền lifted them to the driller, without stopping for a break.
“My body hurts terribly. However, to support my husband and bring up my children, I have to forget all the pain,” she said.
At home, she is a housewife who also takes care of a child who has a birth defect.
She told Thanh Niên (Young Poeple) newspaper she was concerned for her future.
“To switch to another job, I have to have capital. Making ends meet day by day as we do, we will die if we give up carpentry,” she said. -VNS