|Craft workers at Bao La Craft Village are looking forward to a brighter future. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu
by Phuoc Buu
THUA THIEN-HUE (VNS)— Casting a gaze across the path running alongside rice paddies, visitors to Bao La Craft Village cannot see the communal house.
It is submerged in mountains of cut bamboo, evidence that bamboo craft works in the village are enjoying a strong revival.
The village used to be the only source of bamboo tools for daily, agricultural, aquaculture, and fishing purposes in Hue, before plastic and aluminium products overwhelmed the market in the 1980s.
But handicraft bamboo is making a long-awaited comeback, thanks to innovations in design and the trend towards environmentally friendly consumption.
"Of the wholesale customers who approach us, we end up signing long-term contracts with approximately 80 per cent.
The craft is time consuming and we need to ensure quality," says artisan Thai Phi Hong, manager of the Bao La Bamboo Rattan Wares Co-operative's workshop in Quang Dien District.
The co-operative was formed in 2007 by local authorities in an attempt to save the craft village near Hue, gathering 126 out of 280 families in the village.
Thanks to national exhibitions and an international trade fair in Thailand, Bao La bamboo products have received fame and recognition.
The village bustles with the sound of bamboo processing and the eyeful of cut bamboo piled at the village gate.
Sounds of laughter and chit-chat punctuate the whirl of production noises beaming from the workshop.
"We've made many innovations in terms of design and technique. Bao La rattanwares are no longer agricultural and fishing tools," says Hong.
"We produce ornamental items and gifts for tourists. We are also aware that city-dwellers want to be reminded of nature, so our products fill that niche as well."
He explains that some agricultural and fishing tools are now produced in a smaller scale, making neat ornamental items that remind people of the old Vietnamese countryside.
A small set of bamboo baskets and shoulder pole is a very popular tourist gift item as it symbolises Viet Nam.
Used to carry flowers, fruits or food from homes to markets, bamboo baskets and shoulder pole were very popular tools in the country. Some people even carried their kids in the days before bicycles were available.
The co-operative has created 400 designs of bamboo craft items for the market, the majority being bamboo lanterns in various shapes, sizes and styles. Lanterns are the best-selling items, with prices ranging from VND300,000-600,000 (US$14-29).
The trend of environmentally friendly consumption has provided even more jobs for the co-operative.
"As a result of the trend, more and more hotels and restaurants are ordering bamboo baskets to serve fruit and vegetables in," Hong adds.
|Hard at work: Artisans from Bao La craft village making frames for fans used in fashion shows during last week's Hue Craft Village Festival. — VNS Phuoc Buu
Many coffee shops have also contracted the co-operative to decorate walls, ceilings and gates with bamboo.
The need for bamboo to produce tables and chairs is also on the rise.
Nguyen Huu Phuc, manager of vegetarian restaurant Tinh Quan in the Park View Hue Hotel, says Bao La's bamboo items help create "beautiful and peaceful space".
The restaurant, which attracts a largest number of tourists due to its popular vegetarian meals, has many Bao La rattan items prominently displayed.
Authenticity shines through
The co-operative now has three large outlet shops in Da Lat, Da Nang and Hue, which have been set up in unique fashion.
They are staffed and managed by Bao La Village natives who live in the respective cities and their love for the village's sacred craft truly shines through.
"They originated from my village, so they know exactly how to promote the rattan items," said Hong.
The shops are doing very well, both in terms of sales and attracting additional contracts for the village.
At the workshop, almost all the workers say they feel satisfied with the job and their wage. Many are approaching old age and seem glad of the opportunity to put their skills to good use. "Here I can earn well and continue my craft skills," says Ngo Hien, a 67-year-old worker.
According to co-operative leaders, the older workers' experience shines through when it comes to craft skills. Machines are used for many parts of the production in the workshop, helping make the bamboo surfaces smoother and more consistent in terms of size.
The younger villagers perform other jobs during the day and continue their craft at night, producing bamboo baskets for local markets.
Bao La craft village is participating in the Hue Traditional Craft Festival, which begins today, together with Phuoc Tich terracotta, My Xuyen wood sculptures, Ke Mon silver, Thuan Loc embroidery and Phu Cam conical hat making.
The co-operative is working hard in preparation for the festival. "All bamboo decorations at the festival are produced by my co-operative," says artisan Hong.
"We have finished making gates and fences for the festival site. Now we are working on large decorative bamboo spheres and long fans to be used for Minh Hanh's fashion shows."
After the festival, Hong says the co-operative will be busy with their newly-signed contracts. Bamboo cuts continue to pile up around the workshop and the nearby communal house in preparation for the end of the rainy months. With every metre the pile grows, another step is marked in Bao La Village's resurgence. — VNS