Life Life

31/07/2018 - 08:05

Excited with Zeng

In summer, A Luoi (a mountainous district of Thua Thien Hue Province) is rather hot during the day, and usually has pouring rain in the afternoon. However, this could not stop the eagerness of young people from far away to come and visit A Luoi. Simply, the story of Zeng weaving appealed to them.

Zeng attracted university students from far away

After the 1,000km train journey to Hue, more than 40 students majoring in fashion design at Van Lang University (Ho Chi Minh City) continued crossing the winding roads to find Aka hamlet (A Roang Commune) of Ta Oi people located at the foot of the majestic Truong Son Mountain Range. Before their eyes, Zeng weaving appeared closer than ever before with so many surprises waiting to be discovered.


Along the sloping road into the village, the young students were able to see men, women, or young beautiful girls wearing the traditional brocade outfits with a variety of designs. Everyone was struck by the beauty of the outfits. When the car stopped, the Ta Oi communal house in A Ka hamlet appeared with dozens of girls and women ages from 10 to 60 years old weaving at the loom. They shouted out loud exclaiming that this was the Zeng weaving.

A must-buy souvenir

Huong Duong, a student preparing to step into her third year in the fashion major exclaimed, "This is so cool, so unexpected, and so attractive!" Like the other 40 students in the same major, Duong loves fashion and especially traditional fashion. When asked why they had not chosen another type of traditional fashion, Duong recounted that she had seen quite a lot of brocades of the ethnic minority groups living along the Truong Son Mountain Range. She was very impressed with the story of designer Minh Hanh taking the inspiration and material of the Zeng textile to design clothes.

The more they learned, the more Duong and her peers recognized many interesting things from the story told by the artisans. The fabric of Zeng has its own characteristics, which are not affected by the brocade of any other regions in the country or from across the border of Laos. Here, the pattern is sometimes submerged and sometimes raised. The designs are portrayed in a very simple and rustic style but are sophisticated and delicate, allowing the viewers to appreciate the value of the unique indigenous culture that cannot be mistaken, from the communal stilt house, the spear, the mountain range, the grass and trees to the animals and birds...

"Zeng has four main colors: black, red, white, blue. Do you see the pattern of the spear? It is a weapon associated with Ta Oi people during the war against the American," said artisan Vien Thi Loan as she raised the piece of Zeng fabric. Loan is just over 25 but has over 15 years of experience with Zeng weaving.

Pointing to the tiny white beads, Yen Trinh wondered. The question she raised was the essence behind the story of Zeng weaving that many people were looking for: the beads. The beads are incorporated onto the fabric surface and are put into the structure of the loom in a very simple way, but this is a unique difference of Zeng weaving, not apparent in the fabrics of other ethnic people.

Modern variations

It had been a long time since the people of Aka were this happy to receive such special guests - young people from far away who love Zeng. The artisans leaned on the house column to performed while the students attentively listened, observed, and asked questions and took notes. Outside, the mountain wind reflected the poetic nature of the mountains and forests which inspired the artisans and inquirers.

On the unique frame with wooden and bamboo rods crisscrossing, through her clever hands, 50-year old artisan A Viet Thi Nhi emotionally and slowly guided each procedure for the students. She said, in her 37 years of work, she had never been this happy to receive a group of visitors from the South that had come to learn about their traditional craft.

"Even these students love Zeng, so imagine how much we - born and raised here upon the foundation our fathers left behind - love Zeng. “Not only do we teach them about Zeng, we also learn new and fresh motifs from them," Artisan Nhi said.

Nearly a week living and dining with the Zeng artisans, the future designers not only gain new knowledge but also create many new patterns with a modern touch for the artisans to try applying. These can be the texture of a fish, a heart, or a maple leaf, etc. So, each design of each student will be performed by a Zeng artisan.

While weaving the threads to create a student’s design of two hearts, artisan A Viet Thi Nhi admitted: "For a long time, I’ve been familiar with the traditional motifs, now that the students designed new patterns, and it takes me a bit more time to weave. But the designs are very nice."

At night, by the campfire of the communal stilt house, holding the Zeng brocades that were the products of the collaboration between student designers and artisans, the young lecturer Hoang Thi Ai Nhan showed us the works on the Zeng background. "With its distinctive background color system, Zeng can always be associated with a streamlined pattern that can also produce a fancy, fashionable, and modern imprint. If needed, a new color scheme can be used which will definitely create a new and impressive Zeng weaving," said the young teacher.

Those products will escape the role of the traditional costume and will venture further in the realm of interior decoration, such as for curtains, tablecloths... to meet the needs of aesthetic lovers. Not only the students but also the young lecturer who lived among the artistic community of Zeng in the Truong Son Mountain Range have drawn out many plans for the future after their trip.

They thought about bringing the Zeng patterns onto the ao dai and of creating new designs to apply to Zeng background. Especially, they did not forget to buy and wear the Zeng brocade fabrics not only as a souvenir but also as a way to promote A Luoi’s Zeng weaving.

Conserving and promoting traditional crafts

The program which brought students majoring in fashion design to learn about Zeng weaving of Ta Oi ethnic minority group (A Luoi) is a component of the collaboration between Van Lang University and the Institute of Vietnamese National Art and Culture campus in Hue.

Dr. Le Anh Tuan, Vice-Rector of the Institute of Vietnamese National Art and Culture campus in Hue said that this is a meaningful and necessary program which can promote the conservation of the national intangible cultural heritage Zeng weaving. In addition, this is an opportunity for new, modern and practical products to be created but still keep the traditional elements and values of Zeng. Furthermore, it can preserve and promote Zeng's community-based textile crafts and promote the role of the community, in the direction of finding solutions for sustainable development.

Story and photos: Phan Thanh