Smell of Tết fast approaching

January 15, 2019 - 07:00

Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday is approaching. Workers in a 100-year-old incense stick village in HCM City are working hard to produce a huge quantity of incense sticks.  

A woman drying incense sticks. - VNA/VNS Photo
Viet Nam News

HCM CITY – With the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday fast approaching, it’s all hands on deck in an incense village in HCM City’s outskirt district of Bình Chánh.

More than 350 families in Lê Minh Tâm Commune have been making incense for almost a century, and Tết is their busiest time of year, according to online newspaper

The village, 30km west of central HCM City is painted with yellow and red incense sticks being sun-dried along the roads, and their fragrance is everywhere.

Every year, January is the most frantic time of year for the villagers because of the huge demand for incense sticks for Tết, the most important holiday for Vietnamese people.

During this time, hordes of people go to temples and pagodas to light incense or burn the sticks at ancestral altars at home. 

Huỳnh Văn Tính, whose family has one of the longest incense traditions in the village, told the outlet that “I did not know exactly when my family started the job. It is a traditional and spiritual job making these sticks.”

“I just remembered since I was little boy I saw my parents worked hard night and day to make the fragrant sticks”, Tính said.

Lê Thúy, the owner of one of the biggest workshops which employs about 80 workers, said her workshop produced nearly a tonne of incense sticks daily.

“Actually, the workers making incense sticks have to work around the year. But this time ahead of Tết is a high season”, Thúy said.

“We have to take the chance to earn money”, she said.

On average, the village’s medium-size workshop produce about 4 million incense sticks daily for sale nationwide and export to China, Laos, Thailand and elsewhere, according to the paper.

Making incense sticks in the traditional way is not an easy job.

Depending on the specific formula of refining and mixing of each family, the incense maker creates specific types of incense, like aloe or cinnamon incense.

First, the makers have to mix the powder, the main ingredient which is made from sawdust of aloe wood. The incense powder must be smooth and moderately moist and the colour and fragrance must be in harmony. This is considered the main stage of incense making.

After mixing, the worker uses the bark glue of special tree named bời lời to make the powder sticky and then shape the sticks.

Depending on the type of powder, the price of raw materials ranges from tens of thousands to several million đồng per kilogramme.  

If mixing flour needs experience, incense stick shaping requires skill, because if the incense is uneven and unstable, it can easily break when dried. 

The process of drying incense is also tricky. If it is raining, the incense powder can disintegrate and then the whole batch cannot be used.  If the sun is not hot enough, the incense can become discoloured.

Luckily though, most of this painstaking process has been made easier by modern technology.

According to incense maker Huỳnh Văn Tính, in the past, incense sticks were made by hand.

It takes a lot of effort to complete an incense stick, but with modern technology, the shaping machines have helped make the sticks more beautiful and increased productivity, Tính said. 

“All the production stage is made by machines, people just need to bring sticks for sun drying and packing”, he said.

Lê Văn Minh, an incense trader in the city’s District 3, said “each family has its own secret recipes of creating different smells.”

“There are households specialising in making aloe-fragrant incense while others are making cinnamon-fragrant sticks”, said Minh

“No matter what kind of fragrance, all the incense sticks from Lê Minh Xuân Village have a pleasant aroma, slow-burning speed and no harm to the health so they are very popular with customers”, the trader said.  — VNS