There are now very few families pursuing the trade, but they still try to continue preserving the brand of the traditional trade village.
A golden age
Few families in Bay Hien weaving village use looms. Nguyen Thi Hue, 80, is the oldest artisan and is one of very few artisans following the ups and downs of the village. She can no longer weave with looms due to her poor eyes and shaking hands. She still remembered the beautiful memories of a golden age of the village. She was born in a commune that was famous for weaving in Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province. She learned how to spin thread and take shuttle when she was 10 years old. In the 1950s-1960s in the previous century, Quang Nam was devastated by fierce war and harsh nature, making the people’s lives getting more miserable. Many local people migrated to the south and chose this land (now Ward 11) to live and work, creating a small "Quang Nam land’ in the inner Ho Chi Minh City. Early people made their living through many trades, including selling Quang noodles and driving pedicabs. Some people, who missed the traditional weaving trade of their hometown, gradually build a trade village imbued with the cultural identities of the central province of Quang Nam in the southern City.
According to some artisans in Bay Hien weaving village, there was initially a lack of threads and fibres, so the households produced on a small scale. Since 1965, when raw materials were imported from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, the weaving craft in Bay Hien village gradually developed. Over the years, older generations had passed the trade down to younger people and the weaving techniques had been increasingly improved, so the Bay Hien weaving brand became more and more famous in the southern City. The village’s products were favoured for their good quality as well as their simple and beautiful colours and patterns. Dressmaking fabrics and cottons here were not only consumed in the provinces and cities in the country but also exported to several foreign countries. During 1980-1990, Bay Hien village flourished with around 4,000 workers and an annual output of up to 35 million square metres of fabric.
Talking about the golden age of the weaving village, Truong Thi Loan, an artisan with nearly 40 years of experience, said that in the past, the village was full of the sound of looms and hurried working atmosphere. The fabrics in Bay Hien village were made by hand entirely without chemicals so they were not shiny but very soft. Products could not keep up with the demand of traders. As a result, villagers had prosperous lives. The development of weaving craft also attracted a large number of people who provided auxiliary materials from Quang Nam. The villagers also tried to improve machines and techniques to meet higher demand of consumers.
“At that time, when talking about weaved fabrics, the City’s people would immediately think of Bay Hien Village. Everyone was proud because the craft not only helped Quang Nam people in Ho Chi Minh City to earn a living but also promoted the traditional cultural values of their hometown in a new land”, artisan Loan shared.
How to preserve the trade village?
Bay Hien villagers are still proud of the golden age. However, many old artisans are worried about the future of the village. ‘How to preserve the trade village’ is a difficult question for enthusiastic villagers.
Truong Thi Hoa’s family is one of the households in Bay Hien Village that still retains the traditional looms. She said that from 1993 onwards, along with the development of science and technology, Chinese products appeared more and more. Although fabrics made in China were not as durable as those made in Bay Hien Village, their designs were more beautiful and prices were cheaper. Therefore, the markets of the traditional weaving village have been narrowed. Many families had to look for other jobs to earn their living.
Several families, who saved a large amount of money in the past, invested hundreds of millions of Vietnamese Dong to buy kitting machines for production. However, the products could not compete with others in the market, so the money from selling fabrics did not compensate for the cost of machinery and wages. Younger generations in the villages are not very interested in the traditional weaving.
There are now over ten households maintaining the trade, with unstable incomes, mostly because of their love for the traditional craft. Hoa shared: “Sometimes I also want to give up, because the income from weaving is only a few millions Vietnamese Dong per month per person. My children had to find other jobs to earn their living. However, I have a strong attachment to the looms, so I was not resigned to give up. I could not sleep many nights without hearing the sound of the looms. I regret but I do not know how to do it”.
Dinh Chinh (30) is one of young weavers in Bay Hien Village. The sound of machines and the shuttle have followed him since he was very young. He has tried to develop the traditional craft. He and his relatives invested in knitting machines to produce more products at cheaper prices. However, the production has not been stable due to the fierce competition of the market, even leading to losses.
Artisan Nguyen Thi Hue said that there are few young people pursuing the trade because it is very hard while the income is not worth. She expressed her sadness as talking about the future of the trade village.
According to Chairman of Ward 11 People’s Committee Do Thanh Danh, machines are now more modern, leaning towards automation, so many new weaving factories were formed with few workers, producing cheaper products. Meanwhile, traditional weaving requires many workers and creates fewer products.
“The ward’s leaders and I are concerned about preserving the traditional trade village. In the immediate future, it is necessary to find a good direction to develop the economy for households, so that they can keep their passion for looms and shuttles, while ensuring their livelihoods. The attention from the relevant agencies will be a condition and driving force for villagers to preserve and promote the cultural values of Bay Hien weaving village”, he added.
An old artisan also proposed that if the traditional fabrics are not competitive, it is essential to turn into develop trade village tourism. Many domestic and foreign visitors have been very interested in the traditional looms and shuttles. As cultural values are preserved and respected, directions will certainly open for development.