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Sunday, 10/12/2023 08:22

Chuông Village conical hats: symbol of Vietnamese heritage

Artisan Tạ Thu Hương makes a leaf conical hat. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

By Thanh Nga

Nestled by the serene banks of the Đáy River in Hà Nội's rural district of Thanh Oai, Chuông Village boasts of being a hub of the age-old craft of making conical hats.

The village's allure of rural life has captivated both local and international tourists wishing to immerse themselves in an unforgettable experience.

The leaf conical hat, or nón lá in Vietnamese, has transcended its utilitarian purpose to become an emblematic symbol of Vietnamese culture.

For centuries, it has epitomised the essence of Vietnamese women and the rustic charm of the countryside, reflecting the grace, resilience, and unwavering dedication of these women. Beyond its practicality in shielding against the sun and rain, the hat exudes an inherent elegance, enhancing the beauty of those who wear it.

Women are sewing conical hats by hand. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

Among the multiple places known for making conical hats in northern Việt Nam, Chuông Village is the most renowned. It has upheld its reputation for over three centuries. Today, it not only produces ordinary conical hats but has diversified its offerings to include other distinctive variations such as nón ba tầm (round hats with strap tassels) and nón thúng (basket-shaped hats) that are mainly used for decoration and in art shows.

Tourists pose for photos with 'nón quai thao' in Chuông Village. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

Chuông Village's conical hats fetch an average price ranging from VNĐ50,000 to VNĐ100,000 per piece, depending on their intricacy and style. These hats have earned acclaim for their robust craftsmanship as well as their aesthetic appeal. Family workshops in the village turn out thousands of hats each day, meeting domestic and export demands.

“Every month, I export about 10,000 conical hats to foreign countries such as England, Germany, South Korea, Russia, China, Laos and Cambodia,” master artisan Tạ Thu Hương told Việt Nam News.

A foreign tourist poses for photos with a conical hat in a village craft festival in Hà Nội. — VNS Photo Thanh Nga

To achieve such remarkable numbers, Hương continuously innovates, creating unique designs to cater to the discerning tastes of her customers. She skilfully combines materials like cotton cloth, straw, or other fabrics, adorning the hats with lotus flower patterns or other whimsical decorations.

Some hats are even decorated with images of famed Vietnamese  scenic spots or verses, sewn meticulously between layers of  leaves.

Chuông conical hats are shown in many fairs at home and abroad. — VNS Photo Thanh Nga

"As conical hats embody the beauty of Vietnamese women, I tirelessly participate in fairs both at home and abroad to introduce Vietnamese craftsmanship to the world. I take immense pride in preserving the soul and fire of our beloved Chuông Village," Hương said.

Hương was born into a hat-making family, and she has been immersed in the craft since the tender age of eight. At 18, she received her first export order, the beginning of her illustrious journey.

Students learn how to make silk hats. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

The key material for crafting these hats is lụi leaves, sourced from the central province of Hà Tĩnh. Fresh leaves, initially green and weighty, are sun-dried three times to evaporate any lingering moisture, to become delicate, lightweight white leaves. They have to undergo other working steps including ironing before being sewn by hand on the hat frames, which are made of bamboo.

The key raw material for crafting conical hats is 'lụi' leaves. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

Hương boasts six products that have earned the prestigious 4-star OCOP (One Commune One [Speciality] Product) certification. 

However, among her varied assortments, the silk hats stand out as truly unique. Blending the traditional conical hat with the soft, graceful allure of vibrant Hà Đông silk cloth, these hats become a harmonious fusion of heritage and elegance, capturing the essence of old-world charm with a contemporary twist.

Different types of conical hats made by artisan Tạ Thu Hương. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

The conical hats of Chuông Village are not only practical items but also works of art, meticulously painted and adorned with intricate patterns. They have gained recognition as diplomatic products of Việt Nam and have been showcased at various celebrations. At the 2006 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference held in Việt Nam, Hương created a record conical hat measuring 3.6m in diameter and 1.8m in height.

Artisan Tạ Thu Hương welcomes students of Vinschool to Chuông Village. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

Mai Thi Xinh, 62, has dedicated 50 years of her life to making conical hats.

“Making hats is quite a feat. It takes about five hours to complete a piece. However, I am very proud of the traditional craft of my village; it helps me love my homeland more," Xinh said.

Xinh also highlights the importance of continuously improving and beautifying designs for exports. In the past, the villagers only made plain hats, but now they produce silk hats, painted hats, and embroidered hats, showcasing the versatility and creativity of the Chuông craftspeople.

Students of Vinschool experience conical hat making in Chuông Village. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

The artisans of Chuông Village have collaborated with tour operators, schools, and universities to attract visitors to the village to contribute to the local economy.

Students are eager to make conical hats. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
An artisan guides a student to make conical hats. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

Nguyễn Thị Thanh Thủy, a visitor from Ba Đình District, Hà Nội said: "This is the third time I have come to Chuông Village. I feel very peaceful and relaxed here. I like the Chuông hats because they are very cool, light and durable. It is extremely suitable when combined with áo dài (Vietnamese traditional long dress), so I often invite my friends here.

Tourists experience conical hat making in Chuông Village. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

“I am thrilled to see that even children in the village knew how to sew the hats well. Chuông hats are beautiful."

Dương Thị Diệu Linh, a school student, said: "I came here according to the school's extracurricular programme. I was instructed to make hats and paint hats. I think it is very useful. This experience will help us apply classroom knowledge to real life.” 

Phạm Việt Hùng, the chairman of Phương Trung Commune People's Committee, highlighted the economic significance of the craft village. With 2,800 households engaged in hat making out of a total of 4,000 households in the village, it provides a stable income for the locals. 

Students sew a conical hat. — VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng

“The Chuông conical hat brand has received recognition from Hà Nội city authorities, and artisans of the village have garnered attention from various organisations. They have been invited to do work demonstration in some foreign countries and major festivals, contributing to the promotion of Chuông conical hats,” Hùng said.

The legacy of conical hat making continues to thrive, captivating hearts near and far. This humble craft not only preserves the cultural identity of Việt Nam but also showcases the resilience, ingenuity, and artistic finesse of its people. Within each meticulously crafted conical hat lies the story of a nation, a testament to the enduring beauty that weaves together tradition and innovation, connecting generations in an unbreakable bond.VNS

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