Tracing The Hundred-year-tradition Of Making Incense In Quảng Phú Cầu

Incense has been a traditional cultural specificity of the Vietnamese from the distant past to the present day and till forever and after.

Incense is the object used in religious activities. In Vietnamese religious culture, the lingering incense smoke is considered a fanciful path connecting to the spiritual realm. The custom of burning incense has accompanied with the Vietnamese throughout our ancestors’ land expansion journey until now. People of Vietnam practice thurification towards their ancestors and heaven with prayers on nearly any occasion. Not only in festivals, Tet, death anniversaries, they also lit up incense on the altar before departing somewhere far away and after coming home from a distance, even in emotional times when they joy or grieve.

For a long time, this custom has become deeply rooted in the minds of every Vietnamese person and has become a traditional culture spanning thousands of years. The long-standing incense making villages have been working day and night to keep that cultural beauty.

Quảng Phú Cầu village (Ứng Hòa District) is famous not only in Hanoi but also in all over the nation and reaching far beyond the country. Located more than 30km from the center of the capital, this ancient village nestling by Đáy River still retains many historic features of a Northern village with banyan trees, the well, the communal house, etc. They are a rare and precious thing when modern life in urban areas is still growing.

Initially, in the village, the profession of making incense was concentrated mainly in Phú Lương Thượng hamlet. But in recent years, other hamlets like Cầu Bầu, Đạo Tú, etc. also started this traditional job. Setting feet on Quảng Phú Cầu, strolling around these hamlets, the bright red shade of the incenses’ bottom would effortlessly catch your eyesight.

Each incense is a meticulous, respectful work from the talented hands of the craftsman under the intense sunlight of the day. For artisans, incenses were born, not made. It is the quintessence of the devotion and dedication towards the job and the desire to preserve the traditional profession of the people here.

The material to make an incense will usually be the nodding bamboos, which must be of sufficient age and carefully selected and screened by workers. Previously, the bamboo would be split, plucked, and picked up by workers, but later, the development of industry made many households invested in machinery to do this stage. They bring the bamboo to dry and then put into the automatic splitting machine to produce round, even, and sleek incense sticks. Then, they are stratified: quality ones will be dyed the bottom and then dried, while inferior ones will be recycled. Incense sticks after being dried will be bundled into big bundles and then transferred to everywhere to coat on the incense dough, making it the completed incense. The coating is quite a complicated stage, so people mainly focus on producing raw products, then supply to small businesses. However, currently, there are a few households Quảng Phú Cầu doing the coating stage. The phrase “always on the go” fits well with the incense coating job. After finishing, the products will be dry under sunlight to keep the natural fragrance instead of using a machine for losing the characteristic scent just to save time.

Labour in this field has an income of 5-6 million VND /month. Workers with experience in dyeing, drying incense and making coating mixture have higher salaries, from VND 6-8 million / month. In addition to making incense from many types of bamboo, the people of Quảng Phú Cầu have also developed products such as bamboo toothpicks, skewers, bamboo brooms, etc. to serve the market demand. Elders in the village shared that, initially, that was just a leisurely career. Still, due to the increasing demand, it had grown into the primary occupation. Currently, the incense making business has brought a significant source of income for more than 70% of households in Quảng Phú Cầu Commune. The business there is bustling throughout the year, but the liveliest time is in the last months of the year, before the Tet holiday when the demand for using incense of Vietnamese people increases a lot.

Wandering all the paths at the hamlets of Cầu Bầu, Phú Lương Thượng and Đạo Tú, it is very easy to see the bright red colour of the incense stick in the sun with the enthusiastic people working. From the elderly to the young men and women, everyone is so absorbed in work while their laughter never stops.

Having affirmed its reputation over the past 100 years, Quảng Phú Cầu incense sticks are now present in almost every province of the country. Not only that, but the fame of this aromatic incense also extends beyond the borders: they are exported in India, China, Malaysia, etc. Besides, the images of this village have been taken by domestic and foreign photographers countlessly and been introduced to the whole world. Earlier this year, impressive pictures of Quảng Phú Cầu incense village also appeared in the article of AFP news agency (France) and on social networking site Weibo (China). The occasion this time is a great pride of the Vietnamese nation when our traditional culture is warmly welcomed and appreciated by friends all over the world. Amid the cities’ modern life, regardless of the flow of time, the Quảng Phú Cầu incense-making village still exists with its renowned reached throughout the country and way beyond the world in loyalty to the mission of preserving the traditional cultural beauty of the Vietnamese.

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