Preserving traditional bamboo handicrafts in Yên Bái

Update: October, 03/2021 - 10:47


Hành's products have won the favours of many customers, including restaurants and hotels. Photo

By Đinh Tuấn

Modernisation and industrialisation are breathing new life into ethnic minorities in remote Mù Cang Chải District in the northern mountain province of Yên Bái. However, it is also threatening many traditional cultural and economic activities, particularly the local handicraft of bamboo and rattan weaving of the Mông.

The ancient craft has waned gradually, disappearing as people pay less attention to preserving it.

Many bamboo and rattan products such as wicker baskets, bags and hats that used to be very common in every household are now being dominated by plastic items in markets.

Fortunately, Giàng A Hành, a young man from Lao Chải Commune, Mù Cang Chải, is making a contribution to not only restoring and developing but also promoting the bamboo weaving craft as a highly valued cultural feature of the ethnic minority.

Hành has a love and determination to recover his ancestors’ traditions, and is a successful craftsman making artistic bamboo and rattan woven products for domestic markets, winning the favour of many customers including those from hotels and restaurants in the cities.

Giàng A Hành making bamboo and rattan wicker baskets. -- VNS Photo Đinh Tuấn

After graduating from a pharmaceutical school in the northern province of Thái Nguyên, he could not find a job in cities, so decided to return to his native village of Hồ Nhì Pá to start a new career.

It took nearly a year of struggling and unemployment until 2019 when he found his passion for wicker basketry, one of the oldest arts and crafts in his village, using environment-friendly and easy-to-find materials.

He decided to attend a vocational programme provided by local senior craftsmen in the commune, with an ambition to develop the Mông’s traditional weaving craft. He has paid much attention to studying the selection of materials to produce high-quality products. 

“Young people like us should learn from our predecessors and promote our group’s traditional crafts,” says Hành.

The craftsman chooses suitable materials to create various kinds of wickerworks such as rice papooses, big baskets, trays and stools with typical characteristics of the Mông.

Hanh says revitalising the weaving craft is difficult because he is a young man and has not always been familiar with such a craft, which is known as being easier for women as it demands perseverance and ingenuity.

"But the bigger the challenge, the stronger my determination is," he says.  

Luckily, Hành is accompanied by his father Giàng A La, one of the most skilled craftsmen in the village, who taught him how to create products with new designs and high quality.

"The weaving craft is facing a decline so I want the children to restore and keep it up. By doing it, not only can it help them preserve their ancestors' craft but also provide them with a sustainable income," La says.

He is among many elderly in Lao Chải Commune trying to push their children to preserve the heritage since they realised it could disappear. The senior villager says he is trying to support his son and other young men in developing the craft and marketing their products to a wider customer base.

With his help, Hành has become good at making souvenirs as new and attractive products for tourists at Mù Cang Chải local tourism spots.

Over the last two years, particularly before the fourth outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hành’s bamboo woven products have been sold at cultural festivals and bought by many restaurants and hotels.  

“I’ve used his products which are of good quality. We can use or display them for decorative purposes,” says Hảng A Dê, the owner of Thu Dê homestay in Mù Cang Chải. 

Hành says that every day he tries to improve his product quality and designs. He wants visitors to Yên Bái, a land of terraced paddy fields, to remember and become more acquainted with its local handicrafts.

The Mông people make up 90 per cent of the inhabitants in Lao Chải Commune. Their lives depend largely on forestry and agricultural production, which used to be associated with traditional crafts.

In many traditional occupations of the Mông community here, bamboo and rattan weaving is a long-standing craft of the local people.

They make many things from bamboo and rattan such as containers, household utensils, and worshipping items. They use different varieties of bamboo and rattan for different kinds of products. 

With help from people like Hành, this craft is sure to be preserved for future generations. VNS



Each wickerwork becomes more beautiful under the hands of the local artisan. Photo