100-year-old village famed for its ancestor worship altars

Artisans in the Mekong Delta are busy turning out hundreds of altar cabinets before the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday, the peak season of the year.

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100-year-old village famed for its ancestor worship altars
Artisans from the Go Cong Altar Cabinet Village in Tien Giang Province are busy with orders for the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday.


Craft artisans from the Go Cong Altar Cabinet Village in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang are working hard to meet the increasing number of orders before the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday.

Located 60km from HCM City, the crafts village has existed for more than 100 years in Tan Trung Commune's Ong Non Hamlet in Go Cong Town.

According to older residents, the village's origins can be traced to four brothers of carpenter Vuong Van Non, who migrated from the country's northern region to Go Cong in the mid-19th century.

The Non brothers developed and taught carpentry skills to people in the area. As more residents began to make a living from making altar cabinets, the village evolved into a traditional craft with the famous brand name, the Go Cong Altar Cabinet Village.

As one of the oldest craft villages in the province, it now employs more than 2,000 regular and seasonal workers.

With over 40 years of experience, artisan Dang Thanh Tan, 54, said he began learning altar cabinet carpentry when he was a child and has since passed down the secrets of the trade to the younger generation.

“If you love your job, you will do it very well,” Tan said.

100-year-old village famed for its ancestor worship altars
The ancestors' altar is placed in the most solemn location in Vietnamese houses.


The altar cabinets, which retain their traditional character, are made mainly of wood and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The cabinet parts are connected with wooden nails.

Of the many types of wood used to make the cabinet, ebony is the best choice, according to Tan.

“What makes our products beautiful and different from other localities is the encrusting technique used for the mother-of-pearl inlay,” he said.

During the peak season of Tet, village carpenters often have to work through the night to meet orders.

Despite the high demand, the village, like many others, had at times experienced difficult periods during domestic and global economic slowdowns, Tan said.

Previously, the artisans only made encrusted mother-of-pearl pictures of flowers on the front of the cabinets, but now they also depict folktales, famous places and beautiful landscapes.

100-year-old village famed for its ancestor worship altars
A craftsman works on a mother-of-pearl inlay cabinet. VNS Photos Ngoc Diep


In the past, one worker would take at least one month to make a cabinet with hand tools, but the work today is divided into stages with the support of electric woodworking tools. It now takes about a week to finish one piece.

The village has about 500 workshops and households making altar cabinets, according to Pham Van Nam, director of the Go Cong Altar Cabinet Cooperative.
About 5,000-6,000 altars are made every year.

“The craft offers stable jobs and incomes for hundreds of local workers,” he said.

 

Each craftsperson can earn an average of VND200,000-250,000 (US$8.5-10) per day, even up to VND400,000 ($18) per day.

Luckily, the village has enough young people who want to carry out the tradition.

Many local children aged 10-15 in the village are studying how to make altar cabinets during their free time.

“They are keeping the craft alive and will develop it over time,” Nam said.

100-year-old village famed for its ancestor worship altars
The front of an altar cabinet features a beautiful picture.


Besides ancestors’ altar cabinets, the village also makes a variety of wooden products such as tables, chairs, worship objects (incense burners, candle stands, flower vases and trays for displaying fruits) and other home decor.

Vo Van Bung, 55, the owner of a manufacturing facility and two furniture shops, said his family had been involved in the woodworking craft for four generations.

Rising customer demand usually occurs in the last three months of the year, increasing by 30 per cent compared with normal days.

“Sometimes I can't meet the rising demand and we have to order products from other workshops,” he said.

Because of the Vietnamese tradition of ancestor worship, the altar cabinet is an important piece of furniture for many homes. Most Vietnamese families place the cabinet in the most solemn position in their home.

“During Tet, Vietnamese often buy new worship objects to bring luck and prosperity,” Bung said. "Many customers from other localities visit our shops to buy our famous altar cabinets."
The price of an altar cabinet can range from tens of millions dong to more than 100 million dong, depending on the material, design and size.

A customer from HCM City, for example, ordered an altar cabinet with a special design worth more than VND750 million ($32,000).

100-year-old village famed for its ancestor worship altars
A client looks for a new ancestor’s altar cabinet at a wooden furniture shop in Go Cong Town in Tien Giang Province.


Besides the altar cabinet village, there are 12 other traditional craft villages in the province, with a total of more than 5,000 workers, according to Doan Van Phuong, director of the province's Department of Industry and Trade.

The Go Cong Altar Cabinet Village is one of the most famous traditional craft villages in the region.

Its products are sold nationwide.

“This traditional craft, compared to the others, provides the highest income for local workers,” he said. An artisan can earn VND8-10 million ($345-430) per month.

Besides providing a sustainable source of income, the woodworking craft has contributed greatly to the national new-style rural area programme and has improved living standards in rural areas in the province.

The Go Cong Altar Cabinet Village is one of many traditional craft villages that have been preserved, and is expected to become a tourism destination in the future, according to Phuong. VNS

Ngoc Diep

Mekong Delta farmers expect good harvest of Tet flowers

Mekong Delta farmers expect good harvest of Tet flowers

Farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region are expected to have a good flower and ornamental plant harvest, as well as good prices, for the Tet (Lunar New Year) festival, which falls on January 25.

Homestay popular among visitors in Tien Giang

Homestay popular among visitors in Tien Giang

Visitors to a bamboo homestay in My Tho city, Tien Giang province are able to enjoy a variety of fruit at orchards with an overnight tour costing only VND200,000.

 
 

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