by Thu Anh
Handwoven, premium silk loses in market to machine-made cloth
Tam Lang, owner of a small silk-weaving factory in An Giang Province's Tan Chau Town, is the last weaver in the region to offer My A silk, a traditional silk famous for its premium quality.
"My A silk is black, smooth, lightweight and elegant. It feels cool in summer and warm in winter," says 88-year-old Lang, who inherited the business from his parents.
"When I was young, the silk was used exclusively to tailor clothes for the aristocracy and royalty. It was exported to other Asian countries, such as Singapore, India and the Philippines," he says.
"The beauty of My A silk was an inspiration for many Vietnamese poems and songs. Time has changed. With the demand for machine-made fabrics, our silk market has been ruined."
Of the factories and shops in Tan Chau, which was renowned for hundreds of years for its weaving, only Lang's shop offers My A silk.
"I wanted to keep my family's tradition of weaving. I taught my children in hopes that they will preserve this traditional Vietnamese way of making silk," Lang says.
Weavers use a kind of fruit to dye My A silk raven black. They grind and dry the fruit under the sun for dyeing. The dyeing process takes about one month.
My A silk sells for VND350,000 (US$15) per metre while machine-made silk sells for only VND150,000 ($7). Imported items from China are about VND80,000 ($3.5).
Lang says his factory produces 5,000 metres of My A silk per year, mostly selling to French dealers and Vietnamese fashion designers.
"The sales are not enough to pay the weavers. But I still keep the business because I want to preserve the craft," he said.
Theft of gongs threatens traditional village culture
The Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region is famous for its unique culture and lifestyle, especially its cong chieng (gong) music, played by ethnic minority groups during their festivals and holidays.
The Tay Nguyen people believe that when the gongs are played, an encounter occurs between the human and the spirit worlds, between the living and the dead.
Today, however, the gongs are losing their role in village life. Many of the gongs have been stolen and sold to antique collectors.
"Our gongs are made of copper mixed with gold. One gong is worth 10 buffaloes. Collectors and dealers offer big money to buy gongs from our villagers," says U Rop, a resident in Kon Tum Province's Dac Ha District.
"Many houses in our village are not locked, as is our tradition, so many gongs, which have been stored for generations, have been stolen," he says.
Rop's village of Kon Ron has only three gongs. The number of villages with gongs in the province is now 279 out of a total of 588, according to the province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.
"The end is near because of the disappearance of gongs. Without gongs, villagers aren't interested in holding their festivals," says the department's deputy director Phan Van Hoang.
"If the last gongs disappear, the beauty of Tay Nguyen's culture maintained by villagers for hundreds of years will be lost."
Hoang says that local authorities are devising ways to help the Tay Nguyen people preserve the gongs. The money will be given to village elders who will be responsible for preservation. — VNS