(No.2, Vol.8,Apr-May Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Making straw mats at Hoi Village, Hung Ha Dist., Thai Binh Province, 2008-2013
Photos: Nguyen Duy Dong
Tan Le Commune, Hung Ha District of Thai Binh Province has been famous for generations for its straw mat trade. Today 80 per cent of its 3,200 households are making straw mats, supplying the market with millions of mats of all sizes, colors and designs every year.
Among the 20 odd villages of Tan Le, Hoi is the best known. Hoi deserves the fame because it was the first village to establish the straw mat trade for the whole region. Hoi mats are finical, sophisticated with unique and typical decoration patterns that are known and recognized far and wide.
Villagers say they have been trading straw mats for over 500 years already. In 1481, a villager named Pham Don Le topped a national exam, became a mandarin, and was then sent by King Le Thanh Tong to China as an Ambassador. Noticing that Chinese people made straw mats in a different way than that of Hoi villagers, he learned their techniques. Coming back to the home village, he combined the two techniques. Hoi straw mats became stronger and more even, and therefore sold better. After Mr Le’s death, Hoi villagers divinized him as the ancestor of the trade and built a shrine to worship him. Till this day, the shrine is always blurred in incense smoke.
Hoi village has such a deep tradition of making straw mats because it is in the midst of a sea of sedge and jute. The 60s and 70s of the previous century was the golden age of Hoi, as everybody was using straw mats and valued the qualities of Hoi mats.
Today, Hoi villagers use machines to make their mats. A worker told me that with manual techniques two people can make only two pairs a day. But using machines, they can make 20 pairs. Higher productivity significantly improves the workers’ income. Hoi mats come in all sizes, colors and designs, up to the requirements of the customers. Hoi mats can be recognized by their rose and lotus patterns, and human portraits.
Starting from Thai Binh Cty, just follow small asphalt roads between verdant rice fields, and after 40km you will be in Hoi.