Bronze casting village in midst of revival

March, 13/2022 - 08:40

Though it has had its ups and downs throughout history, Phước Kiều Village in the central province of Quảng Nam's Điện Bàn District is on the way to reviving its ancient bronze casting thanks to efforts of local authorities and villagers.

 

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Though it has had its ups and downs throughout history, Phước Kiều Village in the central province of Quảng Nam's Điện Bàn District is on the way to reviving its ancient bronze casting thanks to efforts of local authorities and villagers.

Despite the impact of modernisation and two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the village -- famous for over 400-years of bronze casting craft -- is focusing on keeping the fires burning to make unique products and attract visitors.

Located about 10km from the ancient town of Hội An, the village makes exceptional products from bronze such as bells, gongs, incense burners, lamp holders, vases, and musical instruments.

Historical documents show the village began the craft in the 16th century when craftsmen, successors of founder Dương Không Lộ in the 11th century, moved from their home in the mountain northern province of Lạng Sơn to settle in Điện Bàn and claimed 10 acres of wildland there. They named it Phước Kiều Village. 

Followers of feudal lord Nguyễn Hoàng later developed the craft, and Phước Kiều was said to be his arsenal in the early 17th century. In the following century it was again expanded by the Tây Sơn army.

Its craftsmanship impressed the lords of Tây Sơn so much that the artisans were summoned to then capital Phú Xuân, now Huế City, to make items used in royal ceremonies, government seals and even cannons.

Dương Ngọc Tiễn, a senior artisan who has spent time researching the village's history, said the village's bronze casting craft started to flourish in the 1950s with its fame spreading to surrounding areas.

The 1970s was the most prosperous period for the village with hundreds of visitors coming to see, buy and try the gongs every day.

At that time, more than 200 tonnes of various products could be made every year. Artisans in the village successfully cast two bronze cannons similar to those used during the Nguyễn Dynasty. Each cannon was 100kg in weight, 1.2m in length and 25cm in diameter.

"Everybody rushed to make and trade gongs, so the whole village became a workshop for casting gongs," Tiễn said.

Phước Kiều craftmanship was also popular because of the high skills used in making musical instruments, particularly gongs.

"The artisans know how to 'hear and feel' the music so they can create various types of instruments with distinctive sounds, very specific," Tiễn said.

However, the flourishing development was halted from the 1980s onwards due to the low price of imported products.

 

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According to elderly villagers, at that time, the bronze casting business slowed down and encountered fierce challenges. Most artisans made gongs and other bronze items for ethnic minorities in the North and Central Highlands, but many lost their jobs as foreign cultures were introduced to those regions.

People no longer needed to use bronze gongs in festivals, particularly those made by local craftsmen. Instead, they preferred products made by modern machines or imported from abroad.

The ancient craft faced a risk of disappearance. Despite this, the villagers were determined not to see it die out.

With support from the district authority, master artisans, including Dương Nhi, Dương Ngọc Tiễn and Dương Ngọc Sang, vowed to restore the craft by maintaining their work and promoting their products to other regions.

They even took advantage of international and trade fairs to introduce their products to foreign customers and taught their descendants to preserve the craft.

In October 2006, the village was selected by the Việt Nam National Administration for Tourism to welcome ministers from the APEC summit.

The village was also willing to help protect traditional ethnic cultural treasures in other provinces

About 15 years ago, the number of gong orchestras in the Central Highlands province of Đắk Nông was alarmingly low. In a bid to solve the problem, the provincial authority decided to buy hundreds of new sets of gongs produced in Phước Kiều. 

To keep the bronze casting going, the People's Committee of Quảng Nam Province has supported a project called "Development of the Phước Kiều Bronze Casting Craft" to combine traditional culture with tourism.

Its reputation soon moved beyond Quảng Nam and Đà Nẵng, expanding across the country. With its convenient location near Hội An Old Quarter and Mỹ Sơn Tower tourist site, provincial and local authorities have targeted Phước Kiều bronze casting village as one of the most attractive destinations in the region.

Besides preserving the prestige and brand name of the village, it also attracts tourists to the village to buy its products while admiring the bronze casting.

 

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Every year, when spring comes with Tết (Lunar New Year), Phước Kiều artisans and villagers get busy organising a festival and a worshipping ceremony to pay tribute to the village's founder.

Apart from shopping, tourists to Phước Kiều can directly take part in the production and enjoy the performance of gongs. 

Dương Ngọc Sang, a senior artisan, said: “The ceremony is an opportunity for the descendants of Phước Kiều to pay tribute to their ancestors and remind younger generations of the ancient craft, creating passion among them while preserving it for the future."

The Government has just awarded Sang a certificate of merit to celebrate his 80th birthday, an honour for his nearly 70 years of working in bronze casting. 

Tiễn, former chairman of the Phước Kiều Bronze Casting Association, said the village currently has about three private enterprises and seven household workshops specialising in making traditional bronze products.

Like many other handicraft villages in the country, after a long time struggling with the pandemic, the village's more than 20 bronze casting households have returned to work, bringing jobs to over 100 people.

They expect to receive more support from the Government through boosting investment in local infrastructure and production expansion to welcome more tourists, particularly as the country's tourism returns to normal.

The passion of the local villagers looks set to ring out across many future generations to come. VNS

 

A worker prepares moulds for casting new products. VNA/VNS Photo Phước Tuệ

 

 

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