Village mat weavers keep flag flying

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Pho Trach Village in central Vietnam has for centuries been known for making traditional mats from sedge


Nguyen Thi Chieu in Pho Trach Village is famous for making beautiful mats

Pho Trach, a village in Thua Thien-Hue Province, is famous for its đệm, a kind of mat made from sedge.

Weaving đệm has been a traditional vocation for over 400 years in this Phong Dien District village.

Almost all the women here, and even girls of nine or ten, weave the mats and it is not unusual to see a half-finished one in every house.

The women usually gather to weave mats together, working dexterously even while chatting or watching TV. Many women work until late at night so they can sell a new mat at the market the next morning. Girls from other villages have to learn how to weave if they become a daughter-in-law of the village.

The mats are made of cỏ bàng, a species of sedge that grows in deep water at the edge of rice fields, lives for a year, and grows up to a meter in height.

GETTING THERE

From Hue Town (Thua Thien-Hue Province), tourists can reach Pho Trach Village by car or train.

* By car: take National Highway 1A, go north to the three-way intersection at My Chanh Market, turn right into National Highway 49, go for a kilometer, pass Phuoc Tich Bridge and turn left, go along O Lau River for about 10 kilometers, pass Mu Tu Bridge, and turn right. It takes about an hour.

* By train: take a Hue-Dong Hoi train at Hue and get off at My Chanh near the My Chanh Market three-way intersection. The train leaves at 5-6 a.m. and returns at 5-6 p.m. every day.


Cỏ bàng, a species of sedge, is used to weave mats


The sedge is beaten flat

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By the middle of the first lunar month, people harvest the sedge and empty the field for seedlings to grow from the old stumps. The harvested sedge is dried, tied in bundles, and stored on the kitchen loft.

The sedge is beaten flat with a chunk of wood. Each of the four hamlets in Pho Trach Village has a communal tool placed on the main road for weavers to use. Every day the sounds of the grass being beaten ring out early in the morning. Beating sedge is a hard job that is left to the men.

The mats themselves have one or two layers. Single-layer mats have no decorative patterns and are sold for VND20,000-30,000 (10-15 US cents).

When a layer is added, it has decorative patterns and costs VND80,000-100,000. But this kind of mat is only made on customers' orders. A highly competent worker can produce a single-layer mat every day and a two-layer mat every two days.

The Pho Trach sedge mats remain a favorite household product in rural areas of Thua Thien-Hue. They are smooth to lie on, easy to wash, and dry quickly. They can be spread on the bed or floor and keep people warm in winter and cool in summer.

Sacks, hats, and handbags are also made of cỏ bàng. Nguyen Thi Xuan Dao, 84, a villager who has been weaving for more than 70 years, said most people in her village use these products.

Today Pho Trach villagers also make more of the eco-friendly products like carpets, seat cushions, and trays.

They have won many prizes at handicrafts exhibitions and competitions.

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