The two “giants” at Bao La village (Thua Thien Hue)
Update: Jul 06, 2023
Visiting Bao La Bamboo and Rattan Cooperative (Quang Phu commune, Quang Dien district, Thua Thien Hue province), I met artisans who are hard at work keeping their professions and looking for new directions through their product design improvement. Many of their fine and quality handicraft products have been present in the world market.

 Bamboo and rattan artisans Thai Phi Hung (left) and Vo Chuc (right)

Special designers

Visiting Bao La Bamboo and Rattan Cooperative - a typical Vietnamese craft village, we found it not difficult to meet two artisans Vo Chuc (born 1960) and Thai Phi Hung (born 1951) by their popularity.

Over time, with their talents and skillful hands, artisans Vo Chuc and Thai Phi Hung have become the pride not only of Bao La bamboo and rattan craft village, but also of the Vietnamese knitting profession. The two men are considered two veteran designers who have influenced the longevity of knitting in Quang Dien in particular and Vietnam in general.

Bao La’s traditional bamboo and rattan knitting has been around for more than 600 years. It has attached and created jobs for thousands of rural people. Currently, the cooperative has more than 120 permanent members, with an average income of about VND 3.5 - 4 million/person/month. The cooperative has produced more than 600 different models and products.

Born and raised on the land that is the cradle of the traditional bamboo and rattan craft, artisans Nguyen Phi Hung and Vo Chuc have inherited the ingenuity and passion for traditional knitting from their families from their early ages. Then, that passion gradually seeped into the artisans, making them passionate and cared about each bamboo stick and rattan fiber.

“In 2007, along with the plan to restore and develop traditional craft and craft villages of the Provincial People's Committee and our passion and enthusiasm to revive the traditional craft village of Bao La village’s people, the Bao La Bamboo and Rattan Cooperative was officially established. At first, the cooperative only produced products to serve local agricultural needs, such as wide baskets, closely-woven baskets, grain baskets, sifters, sieves, ... At present, hundreds of new designs have been produced. Bamboo and rattan products of the village is now present in all five continents and is loved by customers around the world,” the bamboo and rattan artist Thai Phi Hung confided.

In January 2019, the Korean Traditional Craft Village Association visited and learned about the craft village and supported it in improving product designs. At the same time, they signed a contract to bring nearly 50 models of Bao La rattan and bamboo craft village to display and introduce in Korea.

Since then, the echo of the craft village has been spread; customers from not only the domestic market but also some countries such as China, Taiwan, the USA, Japan... also placed orders for cooperatives. Bao La bamboo and rattan craft village constantly has focused on improving the quality of product designs to meet the needs of domestic and international markets, which hold the great merits of the two men.

Up to now, the cooperative has designed and produced nearly 600 new and sophisticated models, serving needs of provinces and cities nationwide and for export. On average, each year the cooperative designs and produces 15-30 new models with the contribution of Mr. Hung and Mr. Chuc.

In addition to products serving people’s agricultural production needs, the cooperative has produced lanterns, bags, flower vases, fan spokes, bird cages, sofa tables and chairs and different tools for hotels, restaurants and cafés.

They also created many more sophisticated and high-quality handicraft products to meet the needs of tourists, such as the model of Thanh Toan tiled-roof bridge, Thien Mu pagoda tower, Truong Tien bridge, Ngo Mon Gate, decorative hanging lamps. This significantly contributed to promoting the image of Hue to domestic and foreign tourists.

From their passions, wish to keep the profession and creative diligence, the artisans Vo Chuc and Thai Phi Hung have received many certificates of merit from all levels and sectors, as well as certificates of typical artisans. This is an important motivation to help the “giants” of Bao La craft village continue to “keep the fire”.

Mr. Vo Van Dinh, Director of the cooperative shared that bamboo and rattan products now had consumption markets. Therefore, the work was quite stable. The members’ incomes were much higher than that of farming. In order to make the products more and more attractive to customers, besides working at the cooperative, artisans Vo Chuc and Thai Phi Hung took advantage of updating new models. If there were any beautiful and fancy product samples, they would research together to quickly produce new products that contributed to the diversity of the craft village’s products.

Being on tenterhooks for the profession

Not satisfied with what they have achieved, as well as the desire for the products of traditional Vietnamese villages to continue to be reached out, Mr. Chuc and Mr. Hung continued to tinker, search and create new products that were practical, and they promoted the application of science and technology to improve product quality, in order to meet increasingly picky market demands.

When we met the two men in the middle of May 2023, they said they were developing ideas to design products to compete in a provincial contest. Mr. Hung had the idea of “blooming lotus flower” while Mr. Chuc would produce the model of “Thien Mu Pagoda tower”. Both would be made from bamboo and rattan.

Mr. Vo Chuc said, as long as he was healthy, he would devote himself to Bao La traditional bamboo and rattan craft village. Unfortunately, the craft village has nearly 150 craftsmen but only him and Mr. Hung were artisans. His biggest worry was that the next generation at the cooperative had too few young people at present. Compared to other occupations, the income from knitting is not high and required skills and meticulousness. As a consequence, it cannot attract young workers. This is also the reason for the aging of workers at the Bao La Bamboo and Rattan Cooperative.

The biggest wish of Bao La artisans is that the government should have more preferential policies in training, attracting and improving skills for young workers. Funding of the industrial promotion for labor training in craft villages has long been modest, not stimulating young people to apply for and stick with traditional occupations. Thus, a very real worry is that up to now, while the artisans are in their seventies, the search for the next generation with sufficient skills and enthusiasm has not yet been successful.

Preserving and developing traditional craft villages is not only a story of economic development but also a way to preserve the culture and identity of each village and each locality. Fortunately, enthusiastic people like Mr. Chuc and Mr. Hung in Quang Phu are quietly preserving their traditional craft in various ways so that the Hue cultural flow can be extended and lasted with the times.

Mr. Phan Gia Phu, Deputy Head of Economic - Infrastructure Section of Quang Dien district, said that craft villages have not only preserved traditional cultural values but also contributed to economic development and create jobs for generations of rural labors. To further support craft villages, the district has implemented many mechanisms and policies on restoring and supporting the development of craft villages, training skilled workers, imparting jobs, and encouraging output for products. The district would continue to invest in infrastructure, science and technology, and to associate the industrial promotion, the development of industry and craft village consultation and supports with the programs of building advanced rural areas and developing tourism.

Story and photo: Thai Binh

Hue News - - July 4, 2023