Life Life

05/03/2018 - 10:33

Preserving the traditional forging craft

In the village of Hien Luong (Phong Hien commune, Phong Dien district), Mr. Hoang Hua and Mr. Truong Van Them, in their 70s, are the guardians of the traditional forging craft of the village.

Mr. Hua fully devoted to the job

Preserving the occupation

The ancient village of Hien Luong is long famous for forging as this is the main source of income for generations of the locals. The process of industrialization with the advent of sharp, quick, and reasonably priced products such as knives, scissors, shovels gradually makes the craftwork from Hien Luong forging village difficult to compete with.

Giving up the occupation, Hien Luong people gradually switched to other livelihoods. Only a few continue the craft. Hardly do any youngsters pursue the traditional, well-known profession of "Hien Luong forging village." Yet the elder like Mr. Hua, Mr. Them always long for preserving the traditional profession of ancestors, also as a way to keep the village for their children.

Despite age, Mr. Hua still follows the trade with great passion. Days by days, he heats up the furnace to forge knives and shovels, not because of any orders, but for his skills not to become rusty. 

"For about a hundred years, my family have worked in the forging craft, starting with my father’s generation, then to mine. I’ve turned 80 this year, and 50 of which has been with forging. I still do it to keep the tradition of my ancestors," he said.

Mr. Hue continued, “All households followed the trade when Hien Luong forging village was in its prime. With fifty to a hundred products a month, the locals can earn quite a bit of income. We made not only hoes, machetes, knives, sickles, hammers, scissors, etc. for agricultural purposes, but also weapons for the army. Building houses and raising children became affordable thanks to the occupation.”

“But it is now much more difficult. We forge only a fraction of what we made in the past as now people buy metalwork in the market. We may make a few hundred thousand dongs if we have orders; otherwise, we shut down the furnace. The craft no longer brings us much income, but if we quit, the traditional occupation will disappear.”

Apart from Mr. Hua, in Hien Luong forging village, Mr. Them has also followed the blacksmithing trade since 1975. At nearly 70, he cannot do heavy work, so he chooses to forge for a living.

Despite his dedication to the forging craft for dozens of years, he added pitifully: "Modern machines and advanced technology have paved the way for mass production of metalwork with beautiful design and low price, highly favored by the market and consumers. Forging craft products take a much longer time to make and are sold at a higher price, then how are they supposed to compete? The traditional forging craft is now gradually coming to an end. Luckily, we are currently the last two who persist to keep the occupation. But we soon pass away, you know?”

Mr. Them added: "The responsibility of a son in the family is not to lose the established occupation of his father."

"My father passed it down to me, so I had to continue. I still do. When young, I was determined to pursue the career, then now, I must hold on to keep the profession until I could no longer do so," Mr. Hua insisted.

Saving the village

Unstable income from forging has pushed forgers to quit the occupation and find other livelihoods. Young people in the village choose cities for schools and work; very few hold on to forging for a living. Only the generations like Mr. Hua, Mr. Them still love and keep up the job till now.

With passion and desire to preserve traditional forging for younger generations, people like Mr. Hua and Mr. Them remain devoted to the craft. They fear the traditional craft village of Hien Luong will soon be forgotten if they do not keep it up. 

Today, young people of Hien Luong village no longer practice forging for profession, but many of them still “know the job.” When needed, they can heat up the furnace and forge knives and machete, as forging is not merely a livelihood, but a culture in the heart of Hien Luong people. The generations 6X, 7X and 8 or 9X (those born during the 60s to 90s), despite not having special vocational training, have learned forging from older generations through daily talks and observations.

In order to maintain and preserve Hien Luong forging craft, there is more to do than just trying to save the occupation thanks to Mr. Hua and Mr. Them. It is vital that local authorities and organizations hold campaigns for agricultural and industrial extension to assist the restoration of the craft, connecting with tour companies for visitors’ to experience the craft and buy souvenirs. Improvements in the design of gifts and souvenirs should also be considered

Mr. Hoang Ngoc Trung, Vice Chairman of Phong Hien Commune People's Committee states that with a view to preserving and developing craft villages, local authorities will try to build traditional forging houses and display forging products. Simultaneously, preserving and developing the forging village will be fostered by a focus on production of blacksmith artworks and the development of traditional craft villages in combination with local tours.

Story and photo:  Nhu Quynh

 

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