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Poor man's laterite enriches Binh Yen Commune residents

Update: December, 08/2014 - 15:31
Elephantine: A worker puts finishing touches to a laterite pachyderm. — Photo vietnam.vnanet

Once used to make bricks and build homes by people who could not afford modern materials, laterite has spawned a new art in a Ha Noi Commune, and the rusty-red clay sculptures are making villagers wealthy, Tran Hoa reports.

Laterite is a dense clay rich in aluminium and iron and coloured rusty-red by iron oxides.

It is formed by intensive and long-lasting weathering of the underlying parent rock and is used for building traditional homes and garden walls.

Binh Yen Commune, in the Thai Binh Village of Ha Noi's northern Thach That District, is home to Viet Nam's famous laterite.

Craftsman Tran Van Nghiem recalled that in the past, only poor families used laterite to build houses and other buildings.

"Now only the rich can afford to build homes and garden walls using laterite," Nghiem pointed out. "The concept of using laterite has changed, and we farmers have a chance to enrich ourselves."

Hoang Thanh Long, the Binh Yen Commune vice president, said that the laterite brick workshops in his area provided employment for many workers.

"Our people make good earnings from laterite."

"Some of our workshops specialise in cutting the laterite bricks for building homes, and others cut them specifically for make them for sculptures," he added.

It is easy to see where the workshops are here, with rusty-red sculptures of legendary heroes and animals such as elephants, tigers and horses standing outside their doors.

Skillful craftsmen created these beautiful handicrafts. One of them, Nguyen Manh The, has been in the trade for 10 years.

The revealed that a customer from Da Nang City once ordered from him a pair of laterite unicorn sculptures worth VND50 million (US$2,380).

"It took me two months to carefully carve the laterite bricks into these unicorns with knives," the craftsman recalled.

Job creation

Tang Huu Dung, one of the commune's two most skillful craftsmen, has made a thousand traditional laterite products. His workshop employs 14 regular workers who specialise in searching for and bringing laterite bricks to him.

"They are responsible for the first steps in the making of the sculptures. Either the more skillful craftsmen or I will finish the sculpture to ensure that the product is of the best quality," he explained.

"At times, when I have many orders I have to employ nearly 30 workers to finish the job," he said. He added that this year economic downturn had affected the business, with the number of orders the same as last year. Previously, there was always some year-on-year increase in demand.

Laterite exploration in the commune began in 2000, with villagers using shovels to unearth the clay.

Building blocks: Laterite bricks have been used to make houses and other buildings for many years. — Photos Tuan Hai

Dung admitted that no one knew how much laterite reserves were left in the commune. "Some villagers have found laterite blocks that measure 10 meters long and weigh 10 tonnes. Cranes were used to take them to the workshop," he said.

"We told each other that we have unearthed a gold mine, but we now face a lot of difficulties in finding laterite," he said.

"The laterite resource has become scarcer, partly because we have exploited it for years and the land is being reclaimed for resettlement," he added.

"However I am a well-prepared person. Over the years, I have dug up and stocked a large amount of laterite at home," the craftsman said.

Commune residents believe that they are the original creators of laterite sculptures.

They also believe that they are the ones who began using laterite bricks for buidling houses, walls and other structures, but neither claim can be verified. — VNS

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