Tan Lac is the new name of Quy Chau district, 170km from Vinh City. During the Lunar New Year (Tet), the biggest traditional festival of Vietnam, Tan Lac town becomes enveloped in the fragrance of incense.
Currently more than 200 households in Quy Chau are engaged in frankincense making.
To create the scent typical of the western mountains of Nghe An, locals follow a careful procedure.
The aloeswood season begins in the ninth lunar month but from the early summer, incense makers hectically prepare for the Tet market.
The main ingredient is aloes wood, the resinous wood from the Aquilaria tree which is abundant in the mountain region of Nghe An province. It has a light fragrance. After being collected, the wood is cleaned, dried, and ground into a fine powder to make incense.
Other materials include star aniseed, cardamom, cinnamon, bagasse, and some special herbs which are the secret of each maker. The incense sticks are made from neohouzeaua trees. Making incense sticks requires experience so that they will curve after being burned.
Frankincense is widely used in the spiritual life of the Vietnamese people, especially whenever the Lunar New Year comes.
Vi Thi Thu of Thai ethnic group in Pon village, Quy Chau district, said, “Although we don’t earn much from incense making, it gives us stable income. Since I’m involved in the craft, I don’t have to go to the forest to earn a living.”
Quy Chau has one cooperative and 7 incense making villages.
Tran Thi Loan, chief of the Ha Loan Frankincense Cooperative in Quy Chau, said her family has been engaged in the craft for almost 40 years, earning up to US$13,000 a year and employing 20 to 25 people at US$130 a month.
Loan said, “In the past, we produced in a small quantity. Recently our craft has been growing and creating jobs for all the villagers.”
Quy Chau frankincense is exported to many countries in Europe, America, and Asia.
Nguyen The Cong, chairman of Tan Lac town in Quy Chau, said the craft has improved the lives of the local people, adding, “When Tet comes, Tan Lac earns about US$1.7 million from incense making. Each worker earns more than US$7,000 per year. The average annual incense output is about 38 million sticks.”