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Senior citizen preserves village history

Update: March, 11/2013 - 02:11
Plying his trade: Da Sy Village is renowned for its traditional blacksmith trade. The village can trace its heritage and accomplishments back to feudal times. File Photos

A village in the north dates back 2000 years but evidence and customs of its past have mostly disappeared. What's left is being steadfastly collected and promoted by an elderly, self-taught historian. Giang Nam report.

Da Sy villagers in the northern city of Ha Dong take pride in their hometown, which is renowned not only for its traditional blacksmith trade but also for its accomplishments during the feudal period.

However, many customs of the village were being lost over time until 77-year-old Trinh Quoc Hoan appeared on the scene. Hoan has made it his job to preserve the traditions of the 2,000-year-old village and quietly collect stories from its past, about its traditions and its historic locations, such as the banyan tree, market corner and communal house. Through Hoan's pen, Da Sy's traditions have been revived and come closer to people's hearts again, helping them to understand their history and feel pride of place.

Even though he is not a trained researcher, Hoan's house is always full of books, most of which are in Han Chinese characters, despite his old age and poor eyesight.

Hoan is a 13th generation Trinh Huu, a clan in Da Sy Village, previous generations of which worked as medical practitioners, teachers and geomancers. Predecessors in the village, including Hoan's ancestors, used to prescribe medicines without fixed prices. They accepted whatever the villagers paid them, such as a basket of rice or a branch of areca, and considered their role of teaching and treating illnesses as a way to enhance local culture and help people.

"Our predecessors had many interesting stories about morality and family tradition. What a waste if these stories were not be passed down to the children," Hoan said.

Such thoughts have encouraged Hoan to become absorbed in studying and spreading the stories through word of mouth.

Many people have convinced Hoan to record his profound knowledge in books, including associate professor Tran Lam Bien, a researcher on traditional culture, who has encouraged him to write Coi Nguon (Original Point).

But even that did not satisfy Hoan. He has always felt indebted to Da Sy, and thought of a way to repay the place where he was brought up and to help the children learn more about their predecessors. That is how the book, Lai...…viec lang (Village Affairs… Again), was born in 2008.

Hoan's book was warmly welcomed, especially by his village folks. As its title indicates, it's about village affairs. He says he is not a historical transcriber, but rather a village cultural researcher who notes down whatever he learns.

Lai...…viec lang is not a historical book, it's a reference book about manners and customs in ancient northern villages, from generalisations to specific details related to Da Sy Village. At times, Hoan's makes up small stories with characters, so that readers can easily visualise. So it is with festivals, festive customs and traditional games of the villagers. It is said that only by following Hoan's book can villagers plan festive events in the traditional way.

Thanks to his profound knowledge, Hoan has contributed to resolving an important issue: when and how Da Sy Village originated. He has found that the village has existed for at least 2,200 years, thanks to which the history of the local blacksmith trade has also been clarified.

Hoan will complete his next book, Thien thu am vong (The resounding eternity), which mainly consists of poems and poetic essays with many historical topics. He also wants to write a book about the forging trade in Da Sy.

Keeper of the history: Trinh Quoc Hoan, 77, has made it his job to preserve the traditions of the 2,000-year-old village and quietly collect stories of its past, traditions and historic locations.

Hoan says that if he had not had to fight against diabetes for the last decade, he could have written more, and about other villages.

Da Sy Village is also a place of talent, in medicine and blacksmithing, but no villagers have taken up prescribing herbal medicine in recent years. Together with other member of his clan, Hoan usually encourages young villagers to pursue traditional trades.

"Only after the essence of the trades have been promoted could they be preserved, especially when there have been more and more machines capable of producing similar tools," Hoan worries about the unique forging trade of the village.

Many people have wondered about his pen-name, Huyen Khe. Hoan says, his pen-name means a fanciful stream, also the previous name of Da Sy Village, because there used to be a stream with charming scenery there. It is hoped that Hoan's stream of knowledge will continue to flow among future generations of the village for many years ahead. — VNS

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