The Nung An people of the village maintain the skilled craftsmanship required to make an incense stick. Over fifty families in the village of Phia Thap are involved in this traditional craft, making it one of their main sources of income. Here, the process of making incense is highly ritualistic, with each step being carried out in an almost sacred manner.
For hundreds of years, the Nung An people have been making incense traditionally by hand, using only natural resources found in karst regions. This includes bamboo trees, Bombax ceiba tree bark, sawdust, and the leaves of a wild tree known as "bau hat."
The process of making incense in Phia Thap village is a meticulous one that involves several steps. The villagers sun-dry everything, beginning with the leaves. The bamboo is then cut into 40 cm-long pieces, roughly the length of a chopstick, and polished with precision.
The "bau hat" leaves and bark of the Bombax ceiba tree are finely ground and then mixed with sawdust to create a mixture. After soaking the bamboo sticks in water, they are combined with powdered "bau hat" leaves. This process is repeated four times to make glue. Following that, the bamboo sticks are ready to be seasoned with a mixture of "bau hat" leaves, Bombax ceiba bark, and sawdust to make incense sticks. Finally, the incense sticks are hung up to dry in the sun.
The most time-consuming stage is drying the incense sticks in the sun. When the weather is cloudy, it takes the incense sticks at least three days to dry completely. If you visit the village of Phi Thap, you will see incense sticks drying in the sun and tied together as if they were large flowers. From their fields to the main roads, right up to their stilt houses. The bottom half of the dried sticks are then dyed red and dried again before getting sold.
Visiting these local craft villages, such as Phia Thap Incense, can teach you a lot about their culture. How the villagers choose to live a simple life focused on their culture and mastering their craft. As we walked around the stilted houses, we noticed traditional houses that were also equipped with modern technology, such as a flat-screen television. This juxtaposition of traditional and modern highlights the village's efforts to maintain its cultural roots while still adapting to the ever-changing times.
This is simply a realization that as time passes, advancement, whether technological or other, will be faced in this local village. Although this village is in the process of modernizing, it’s amazing to witness how it still clings to its traditional roots and practices. However, this also begs the question: how long will it be before this tradition is lost?
This story is written in the hopes that whoever reads it will continue to support local traditions like this Vietnamese craft village. You can continue to support the locals by becoming interested in their culture and purchasing their local crafts. By maintaining an interest in and a respect for their culture, these villagers will be able to pass on their practices and skills to the next generation.