Being in Cong Thanh Village on sunny days, visitors will see sedge plants and flowery sedge mats drying in every available open space, on the roadside or drying yards. In the houses, women, old and young, and children are working at the weaving looms, their hands feeding threads to and fro on the looms so skilfully.
Forty-two-year-old Nguyen Thi Ban stopped operating her weaving loom for a while to wait for her daughter to bring her more rush threads, and spoke to me: "I have woven sedge mats for more than 30 years. To have a nice, durable mat, there should be a total of three jobs combined together. I am involved in only one process, i.e. weaving mats. However, whatever the job, one should be totally devoted to it.”
The other jobs that Ban referred to are to grow sedge plants, harvest, split and dry them; and to dye rush threads.
Weaving sedge mats brings in a low income. A skilful weaver who works from early morning till late in the afternoon can weave three pairs of mats (mats are often sold in pairs). In most cases the mats are weaved with colourful, flowery designs.
About ten years ago, sedge mat-weaving in Cong Thanh Village seemed to fall into oblivion, because plastic mats from China were sold en masse at a cheap price. Consumers refused to buy rush mats. Sedge plants died on the field because the growers failed to harvest them. However, that difficult time has passed. Many consumers realized that plastic mats are hot in summer and cold in winter, so they returned to using rush mats.
"We were so sad at that time and did not know what to do. But many skilful weavers encouraged us, saying that sedge mat weaving is a traditional craft, which has a Patron Saint to rely on, so sooner or later the products will be sought after by the consumers. After two years of neglecting our products, the traders returned and bought them again. At present more local people work on sedge mat weaving," Tran Duy Hoi, Chairman of Tam Quan Bac Commune People's Committee, told us with joy.
There are more than 400 hand-operated weaving looms in Cong Thanh Village which are operated not only by skilful artisans, but also by children. Old Nguyen Thi On, now over 70 years old, has weaved sedge mats for more than 60 years. She said that during the difficult years she was so sad when sitting at her weaving loom and looking at the rush threads, doing nothing. She prayed day and night that the traditional craft of mat weaving would soon be revived. Now that sedge mats are much sought after, she has returned to mat weaving. Everyday she wakes up early in the morning when the sun rises over the coconut trees and works on the weaving loom together with her daughter. She also encourages her children and the villagers that besides learning at school for general knowledge, they should work together and preserve their traditional craft of mat making.
Besides 400 handicraft weaving looms, there are 13 mat weaving machines, with a production capacity four times that of the hand operated loom. Mats woven by traditional looms or by weaving machines have the same quality and are sold at the same price, bringing in an average income to the weavers of about 1.5 million VND per month.
Each year Cong Thanh weavers supply the market with about 200,000 pairs of mats with an income of dozens of billions of Vietnamese dong. The business provides job to more than 1,000 labourers.
Cong Thanh sedge mats are now consumed widely in and around the region, and as far as to the Central Highlands. At one time many young people left home to work in other localities, but now they have returned home to work on the weaving looms.
"I believe that mat weaving in my village will further thrive. I have worked here for more than one year and see that we always have a shortage of mats to sell to the customers. We have to work late at night, especially when the Tet holidays approach,” Nguyen Thi Lan, who works on a weaving machine, said.
When we left Cong Thanh Village late in the afternoon, we still saw many people busily working. They transported sedge plants into a store house and sorted them, or packed mats to deliver to consumers. All made up a nice picture of a comprehensive production chain of mat making.
"If you visit and stay overnight in Cong Thanh, I'll cover your bed with a sedge mat/ My deep affection for you will last long ..."
Such verses from a song sung by a Cong Thanh mat female weaver came along with us on our way home.
Cong Thanh sedge mats are famous throughout the southern region of Central Vietnam.
Villagers in Cong Thanh Village process sedge plants.
Weaving mats by the traditional way.
Collecting the materials.
Drying rush threads. Weaving sedge mats by machines.