UNESCO Heritage Status of Cham People’s Pottery Making Art in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

In 2022, UNESCO inscribed the pottery making art of the Cham ethnic people in its list of intangible cultural heritage in urgent need of safeguarding.

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A dancing performance at the ceremony on June 15. Source: Department of International Cooperation under Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
A dancing performance at the ceremony on June 15. Source: Department of International Cooperation under Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

A ceremony was held in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan on June 15 to receive the UNESCO certificate inscribing the art of pottery making of Cham people on the list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding and kick off the Ninh Thuan Grape – Wine Festival 2023, VNA reported.

The event in Phan Rang – Thap Cham city took place in the presence of President Vo Van Thuong and central and local officials.

In his remarks, Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha said the UNESCO recognition is an affirmation of Vietnam’s cultural identity in the world’s cultural heritage treasure and also shows respect for women’s role in the modern society. From now on, the art becomes a common asset of humanity, he noted.

Meanwhile, with their industriousness and endless creativity, local residents have successfully grown many high-yield grape varieties, turning Ninh Thuan into a magnet of experience tourism for travellers.

Deputy PM Tran Hong Ha speaks at the ceremony in Phan Rang - Thap Cham city on June 15. Source: Department of International Cooperation under Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Deputy PM Tran Hong Ha speaks at the ceremony in Phan Rang – Thap Cham city on June 15. Source: Department of International Cooperation under Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

The biennial Grape-Wine Festival is an occasion to honor farmers, entrepreneurs, and scientists and seek opportunities for popularising the brand of Ninh Thuan grapes and wine to the domestic and international markets so that the products can become a typical cultural identity of the province, according to Ha.

He asked the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Ninh Thuan to build more detailed and practical plans on preserving and bringing into play tangible and intangible cultural heritage values, improve people’s material and spiritual lives, and create a cultural environment in the community.

The Deputy PM called on all-level authorities, sectors, and the entire society to join hands in upholding UNESCO-recognised cultural heritage pieces as well as others so that the fine traditional cultural values will accompany the country on the development path and contribute to the world’s culture.

Officials of Ninh Thuan and neighbouring Binh Thuan province (first and second from right) receive the UNESCO certificate for the art of pottery making of Cham people. Source: Department of International Cooperation under Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Officials of Ninh Thuan and neighbouring Binh Thuan province (first and second from right) receive the UNESCO certificate for the art of pottery making of Cham people. Source: Department of International Cooperation under Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism

On this occasion, he also appreciated international friends’ valuable assistance for Vietnam to maintain and promote traditional cultural values.

Activities in celebration of the UNESCO certificate reception and the Grape – Wine Festival 2023 last from June 13 to 18. They include 12 special cultural, sports, and tourism activities at the provincial level, and a wide range of other events at the district level across Ninh Thuan.

President Vo Van Thuong (left) visits an exhibition hall of pottery products in Bau Truc village on June 15. Photo: VNA
President Vo Van Thuong (left) visits an exhibition hall of pottery products in Bau Truc village on June 15. Photo: VNA

Earlier on June 15, President Thuong visited artisans and residents of Bau Truc, an ancient pottery village in Phuoc Dan township of Ninh Phuoc district.

Cham pottery products are mainly household utensils, religious objects, and fine art works, including jars, pots, trays, and vases. They are made by women and viewed as an expression of individual creativity based on the knowledge transmitted within the community. Instead of using a turntable, the women revolve around the piece to shape it. Photo: VNA
Cham pottery products are mainly household utensils, religious objects, and fine art works, including jars, pots, trays, and vases. They are made by women and viewed as an expression of individual creativity based on the knowledge transmitted within the community. Instead of using a turntable, the women revolve around the piece to shape it. Photo: VNA

Cham pottery products are mainly household utensils, worship objects, and handicrafts such as jars (called “jek”), pots (gok), food trays (cambak), and vases (bilaok).

Pottery making is considered a demonstration of Cham women’s creativity on the basis of their community’s knowledge.

Notably, instead of using turntables, Cham women move themselves backward around blocks of clay to shape objects. The products are not laid with enamel but dried and baked outdoor in wood and rice straw fires at about 800 degrees Celsius for seven-eight hours. Raw materials (clay, sand, water, firewood and straw) are collected locally, and the knowledge and skills are passed on to younger generations within families through hands-on practice.

Clay is sourced from the Hamu Tanu Halan field on the banks of the Quao River in Bau Truc village and the clay pit of Xuan Quang village, about 3km to the northwest of Binh Duc village, the central province of Ninh Thuan.

Despite preservation efforts, pottery making is still at risk of disintegration due to the urbanisation process’s impact on the access to raw materials, the slow adaptation to the market economy, and young people’s lack of interest in the craft.

The pottery making of Cham people is the 15th intangible cultural heritage of Vietnam to be named in UNESCO lists.

Grape is the fourth biggest in terms of value among Ninh Thuan’s crops. The province has 1,060ha under grape, which is slated to double to 2,000ha by 2030. In recent years the quality and variety of Ninh Thuan’s grapes have been growing, and the province is pushing for more hi-tech and organic farming

Hannah Nguyen