Saturday, 10/03/2018 10:20

Boat making village seeks to preserve tradition

A boat maker in Long Hau Commune works on his product. — VNA/VNS Photo
Viet Nam News

DONG THAP — Long Hau Commune in Lai Vung District in the southern province of Dong Thap is famous for building boats. Local boat makers, however, are struggling to preserve the traditional livelihood.

From the fourth to the eighth month of the lunar year, in order to prepare for the coming flood season, local boat makers are busy with orders from customers in neighbouring areas: Can Tho, An Giang, Kien Giang and Vinh Long. During peak time for boat making, the sounds of hammers, chisels, saws and motorboat engines fill every corner of the commune. Arriving at the commune at that time, people can see numerous boats of different kinds and sizes on both the canal and the shore.

Nguyen Thanh Nam, a talented artisan in the area with 50 years of experience in building boats, said that his grandfather Pham Van Thuong was considered the father of boat building in Long Hau Commune.

Thuong was also called Sau Xuong Cui by the locals.

No one knows where he was from, but the story goes that he got married to a local girl and set up his own business in the area.

At first, he only built boats for his relatives. Then he taught his neighbours the techniques of boat building and they gradually spread throughout the region.

In the past, the locals only built Xuong Cui, a type of small boat used to catch fish in canals. Local boat makers started building different kinds of boats.

Sixty-year-old boat maker Nguyen Van Tot said that the commune used to make about 20,000 boats each year because high floods regularly arrived in the Mekong Delta province. During flood season, boats are not only a major means of transport for locals in the region, but are also used to catch fish, so people were eager to purchase boats.

In 2015, there were about 400 families in the commune making boats. Now, there are only 41 families.

Many boat makers in Long Hau Commune have changed jobs. Some left their hometown and moved to the neighbouring provinces of Tien Giang and Long An to continue working as boat makers.

Tot said that in the last few years, flood season arrived late and prolonged droughts hit the Mekong Delta provinces, negatively affecting the boat making industry and Long Hau boat makers.

Ho Van Kiet, another local boat maker, said that four generations of his family made boats in Long Hau Commune.

Previously, he employed 15 skillful boat makers in his workshop, which could make 300-400 fishing boats for customers in the provinces of Long An, Dong Thap, An Giang and Kien Giang.

However, in the flood season of 2016, his workshop made a few dozen boats for customers from Can Tho only. He received few orders from other provinces.

“If the business gets worse, I will have to close my workshop,” he said.

Boat maker Nguyen Van Se said that because of reduced demand and reduced production, many young people left the hometown to seek jobs.

“If more and more local people give up making boats, who will preserve Long Hau’s traditional occupation?” Se worried.

Souvenir boats

Boat maker Nguyen Van Tot, of Long Hung 2 Hamlet, Long Hau Commune started making boats when he was 15 year old. He can talk for days about Long Hau boats and their differences from boats made in other boat making villages in Cai Rang, Can Tho, Ca Vom An Giang, Long An or Thap Muoi.

When the trade of wooden boats in Long Hau Commune slows down, he is very concerned about preserving the tradition, Thanh Nien ( Young people) newspaper reported.

In the last few years, besides making boats for transport and fishing, Tot made souvenir boats.

The souvenir boats are displayed in tourism areas or sold to tourists.

Tot said that making a souvenir boat was similar to making a real one, with even more tasks to do, such as rubbing, painting and writing wishes on it.

“It takes few months to complete a set of more than 20 souvenir boats,” Tot said.

Tourists, especially overseas Vietnamese, liked to visit his workshop to witness how to make a boat and purchase souvenir boats, Tot said.

He also said that his boats are also used to hold flowers.

Tot said that he was seeking co-operation opportunities with flower growers in Sa Dec and Da Lat to provide flower decorative products.

Now, Tot said he was also concerned about the next generation of boat makers because few young people were interested in the job. — VNS

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