More strangely, this market did not have any fixed stalls; instead, the buyers chose a fixed spot to sit and wait while the sellers walked up and down the market with their goods on their shoulders, calling for customers and bargaining with them. It is called the “ghost” sedge mat market or the Underworld sedge mat market at Dinh Yen commune, Vap Lo district, Dong Thap province, along the left bank of the Hau River.
At the time, the squeaking sound of the running looms was heard everywhere from one end of the village to the other. According to some old stories told by the village elders, the market met at night because during the daytime the village people were busy with their farm work and spinning while the mat traders were occupied elsewhere with their trading business. At nightfall, the mat makers and the traders hung oil lamps in front of An Phuoc Pagoda and gathered for the night market.
The locals are very proud of this “ghost” sedge mat market – considering it a special cultural tradition and an indispensable part of their identity and memories.
However, in recent years, the sedge mat night market was no longer maintained, eliminated from modern society like any inconvenience incompatible with modern life.
With the construction of new concrete roads and modern means of transportation, such as boats, motorbikes and trucks, mat traders can reach remote villages and hamlets to purchase products directly from the makers. Thus, after its over-100-year existence with many interesting anecdotes and memories, the Dinh Yen “ghost” sedge mat market slowly fades away into distant memory, leaving local people with an inconsolable sense of nostalgia.
According to a village elder who made his living by weaving mats for 50 years, in the past, all the village households were engaged in mat weaving. Today only 2 of every 10 households still follow the tradition. Most young people in the village have left for the city to become factory workers. The “ghost” market becomes obsolete because now that the mat makers are just a phone call away from the mat traders, there is no need for them to meet in a market at night.
The 1980s of the last century is the heyday of the Dinh Yen sedge mat village when their products made their entrance into the large markets of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Throughout the entire village more than 40 cooperatives were formed, attracting thousands of workers. However, due to the socio-political upheavals of the late 1980s, the Soviet Union and Eastern European markets became inaccessible to the sedge mat producers. The cooperatives in Dinh Yen were disbanded and mat weaving became once again a small-scale family-run business, with a grim prospect.
And yet, people in the village have refused to abandon the traditional craft of weaving sedge mats and tried to preserve and pass it down from generation to generation.
Today, the Dinh Yen sedge mat village has largely overcome the crisis and begun to show signs of vigorous development, adapting itself to the demands of modern times.
Gradually, as the traditional looms gave way to the modern weaving machines, productivity increases while weaving time and cost are reduced.
However, some villagers, such as this elderly couple, can’t forget the traditional looms and weaving ways of the forefathers. Every day, the wife diligently feeds the threads into the loom with great skill while her husband patiently moves the loom frame to press the strings together. They are not trying to earn a living but simply to rekindle old memories.
“We never quit. Many generations of our family have been in this traditional craft. Our two daughters also follow this tradition,” said an elder artisan of the sedge mat weaving craft.
Colorful sedge mats in various designs and styles are to leave to Dinh Yen village on many boats anchored at the harbor. Besides being a central distribution market, Dinh Yen is also a gathering place for many boats from other provinces like Sa Dec and Vinh Long to come to sell hemp strings, canvas, and artificial colorings -- raw materials for the making of mats.“Today, the boat is bigger, so it can carry about 1,000-2,000 pairs of sedge mats, instead of just 700-800 as in the past. I’ve always managed to sell all of the mats,” said Ba Long, a trader of of sedge mats in Dinh Yen for nearly 30 years.
The local authority is constructing a new central mat market, modern and large, to bring back a long-time cultural activity of the people at the Dinh Yen sedge mat village.
“One of major tasks of Dinh Yen commune’s authorities is to keep and develop the Dinh Yen sedge mat village, and the ghost sedge mat market as well to create jobs for locals and to promote tourism,” said Nguyen Van Hung, head of the Cultural Bureau of Vap Lo district.