Nom village in the longan lands of Hung Yen province

(No.11, Vol.2, Nov 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Nom village's pagoda

Nom Village in Dai Dong hamlet, Van Lam district, Hung Yen province lies just over 30 kilometers east of Hanoi. The village was formed at the beginning of the Common Era, according to a stele preserved in Nom Pagoda.
As is the case with many other Vietnamese villages, the history of Nom Village’s origins are associated with legends of spirits; among them many that contain fabulous mythical elements. According to hagiographies extant in Nom Village’s communal house, during the Western Han Dynasty, a girl surnamed Pham was famed for her beauty but refused to marry. Since she was enchanted by Buddhism, she went to Phap Van (Dharma Cloud) Pagoda to reside. Once, when she went out to bath in Nguyet Duc River, which lies adjacent to the village, the sky suddenly turned dark and a tempest broke out. A river serpent jumped out and coiled around her. Terrified, she ran off to the pagoda and fainted. In her delirium, she dreamed that she swallowed the moon down into her belly. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son of uncanny ability and countenance, whom she named Tam Giang. Tam Giang grew up to become a general for the Trung sisters in the rebellion against Han Dynasty domination in 40 C.E. After the successful rebellion, Tam Giang returned to Nom Village, where he had garrisoned, and established a livelihood. Three years later, the Han army invaded. Tam Giang gathered together an army and went to battle, but was defeated and retreated back to Nom Village. As the enemy pursued him, Tam Giang committed suicide along with his mother and wife at Nguyet Duc River. Learning that Tam Giang had died, the villagers built a shrine for him and venerated him as the village tutelary spirit.
Thousands of years may have passed, but Nom Village retains its image as a traditional Vietnamese village.
The arched village gate is made of bricks, on which are inscribed Confucian characters and the image of two dragons encircling the moon. The villagers say that previously two dark wooden doors closed the gate, but they no longer exist. The gate is where villagers greet and send off guests.
The center of Nom Village is the communal house. Before the road leading into the communal house is a pond several decameters wide and approximately 200 meters long. In the village over a dozen ancient houses and seven altars of the various families remain. Most prominent is the home of Phung Van Long, which was built about 200 years ago, according to documents from Hung Yen province’s department of culture, sports and tourism. The house includes fully intact wooden pillars and columns, on which exquisite carvings remain.

A festival atNorn village

The communal house of Nom Village venerates Tam Giang. It is unclear when it was built. According to villagers, at first it was just a small shrine built on the site of General Tam Giang’s former home. The communal house was restored many times, the latest being in 1924, according to a stele extent in the communal house. The communal house lies on a high, broad, arid, open and cool stretch of land with two old trees that provide shade. On the left is the Nguyet Duc River and on the right is a residential area. In front on the communal house exits an antiquated well made of bricks and greenish stone. All of this creates the familiar space of a traditional Vietnamese village with banyan trees, a well, and a communal house courtyard – an image long since deeply engraved in the hearts and minds of all Vietnamese people. The Nom Village communal house can be considered a unique architectural project in terms of its compositional harmony between architecture and nature. Typical of projects from the early 20th century, it is at once capacious and antiquated even as it exhibits an enchanting sacredness. Today, the communal house retains many valuable artifacts such as 14 dynastic investiture decrees, Tam Giang’s military garb, a horse driven carriage, 11 Chinese character plaques, 9 antithetical couplets, and sacrificial paraphernalia.

An old well at Norn village

The village is connected to a market and a Buddhist pagoda by a stone bridge called Nom Bridge, which extends across the Nguyet Duc River. According to materials from the People’s Committee of Dai Dong Hamlet, the bridge was built in 1860; it is almost 20 meters long and 2 meters wide in 9 sections. Each section is made up of a slab of stone with two dragon engravings on both ends.
Nom Pagoda lies north of the village on an elevated field about 8,000m2 in area. The pagoda is ensconced by bamboo that was planted long ago. The stele at the pagoda says that the pagoda was erected in 1680 and restored many times, the latest being in 1899. Today, more than 100 ancient statues remain at the pagoda.
According to the book Traditional Vietnamese Handicrafts by Bui Van Vuong, at the beginning of the 20th century, Nom Village specialized in trading scrap metal. Owing to the resourcefulness and resilience of the villagers in trading far and wide, the village economy was well-off and enjoyed an abundant livelihood. To this day, Nom Market still retains an antiquated character and convenes twice every week. In contrast to many northern villages, Nom Market lies removed from the residential area. On the other hand, although Nom Village is quite famous for trading scrap metal, it never became a center for trading metals or metal products. The market is only a place that provides village agricultural products and produce.
The people of Nom Village live a simple existence and are cordial to guests. The village women are gentle, refined, soft-spoken, and charming. The elders still value the rituals and family traditions of their clans.
Other than the communal house and pagoda, which were named national heritage sites in 1994, Nom Village overall has not been recognized with any title of cultural vestige or historical heritage. Therefore, the village has not received provincial or government investment, even as a number of ancient homes are already degenerating.

Text and photos By Nguyen Thi Thuy Hang
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