Vietnam’s traditional craft villages where artisans for hundreds of years have produced bronze, ceramic, silk and bamboo products, among other crafts, are under threat, according to the Nhan Dan (People) online newspaper.

Suffering from the impacts of economic recession, as well as a lack of capital, problems with the sustainability of the material supply source, shortfalls in management and importantly, little recognition for the artisan’s work, Vietnam’s craft villages could be lost.

Villages like Chu Dau and Bat Trang pottery villages, Van Phuc silk village, Dinh Cong and Dong Xuan bronze vilages, Quat Dong embroidery village, and Phu Vinh bamboo and rattan village, with hundreds of years of history could eventually become desolate.

A key threat to the survival of the villages is the lack of recognition for the artisans, which discourages young people from continuing on their family history. There are yet to be clear regulations on the criteria for the title nor a specific organisation entrusted with the recognition process.

This poor management has meant that not only are the right people not being awarded but also at the same time unqualified artisans are wrongly given the title.

For example, in Ha Tay province (now merged with Hanoi) - the land of many long-standing crafts - numerous remarkable artisans have not yet been named in the awardee list.

The problem spreads widely, with artisans ‘ignored’ in other localities also, such as Tran Thi Y Lan in Ho Chi Minh City, the producers of unique sand pictures; Le Van Vong in Kieu Ky gold-inlay village; and Nguyen Thi Mai Van in the wine making village.

On the other hand, those who have been honoured do not receive reasonable economic benefits, such as free training courses, space to show their products at fairs, or invitations to train the younger generation of their fields.

In short, we are pushing talent away from the crafts, away from the preservation of heritage and to the end of the villages instead of towards development and innovation.

Action is needed now in order to save Vietnam’s traditional craft villages and help those struggling to carry on with their ancestral traditions. Acknowledgement and honour for the artisans cannot be postponed any more.

Firstly, specific ministries and sectors must be assigned to manage the different issues. It is suggested the Ministry of Trade and Industry work with those from craft villages in the production and business fields while it is recommended the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism considers those working in tangible and intangible cultural fields. The Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee should further co-ordination with its member organisations and social organisations to ensure that no artisan is missed from the acknowledgement.

Vietnam can also learn from Japan, where once many craft villages faced collapse with young people flocking en-masse to big cities. To address the issue, the Japanese Government developed policies to ‘preserve’ artisanship and provided them with preferential insurance. With improved living standards, the artisans had more time to train the younger generations and develop their crafts. Thanks to the decision, the craft villages recovered.

Other ASEAN countries have been known to show appreciation for artisans by organising exhibitions of their products and providing them with benefits such as regular health check-ups.

If we value the artisans now we have a chance to not only save the villages but develop the trades above and beyond what they have ever been.-VNA