The cradle of the wood-lathing craft
Like many traditional crafts, no one is certain when wood carving began in Nhi Khe Village. However, according to the villagers, the craft’s founder was Doan Tai. The legend said that under the period of King Le and Lord Trinh, there was a talented craftsman named Doan Tai. He was able to curve numerous unique objects, especially the tobacco pipe with 18 holes which could be used by 18 young men at the same time. In particular, many of his products were brought to the King. With his talents, he was rewarded the title "Le Dynasty - The Four Colors Wooden Statue". Although he is a native of Khanh Van Village on the opposite bank of the To Lich River, he chose Nhi Khe to pass down his tradition. Since then, he was respected as ancestor of the wood-lathing craft. Later, the villagers organize their festival by following Tai’s death anniversary on 25th day of the tenth lunar month every year to commemorate him. Many lathe turners from neighboring provinces also attend the festival.
The craft has flourished in the 18th -19th century in many neighboring provinces, such as Nam Dinh, Thai Nguyen. In Ha Noi, the craftsmen opened their stores at To Tich Street, Hang Gai Ward today.
In the past, the craftsmen mainly produced worshiping products, such as incense sticks, wooden trays, vases, candle holders, etc. Since Viet Nam entered the market economy, artisans in Nhi Khe Village have modified and expanded their traditional crafts. Products have become so diversified. Apart from traditional material, artisans have created objects from plastic, horn, ivory and precious stones. Currently, Nhi Khe villagers also focus on producing household appliances, such as wooden bars, balustrade, table legs, wood carpet, etc.
A product of Nhi Khe. (Photo:vietnam.vnanet.vn)
At present, the village has over 400 households, each of whom specializes in the production of a certain article. For example, some craftsmen make wooden souvenirs and animals, which have become favorites of foreign visitors. Others’ specialties are traditional music instruments which attract the attention of both domestic musicians and foreign customers. A number of households specialize in making wooden screens, a favorite product in Asian countries, etc.
Nhi Khe products are well-known due to their unique characters. They show the sophisticated technique and skills of talented craftsmen. According to elderly artisans, in wood-lathing craft, drilling small holes is very difficult. Besides, another important technique is thread cutting that is the way to integrate parts together by spiral lace. With a skillful technique, all different parts are integrated easily to a block. The final technique is sliding. To create a wooden-carving product, the craftsmen have to slide a log of wood into given equal thickness. The task requires the craftsman to have a good combination between lathing and drilling techniques to avoid unstable cutting surface. Thus, many special products have been sold throughout the country and exported to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
For nearly 300 years, people of Nhi Khe village have made increasing efforts to develop their tradition. From generation to generation, they have never stopped to explore new products, contributing to preserving the traditional craft village. Today wood-lathers’ lives have improved, as Nhi Khe traditional crafts prosper along with new products. The diligence and creativity of Nhi Khe craftspeople have helped to contribute to their own prosperity and that of the entire country.
The hometown of well-known historical people
Nhi Khe is not only known as a unique traditional craft village but also known as the hometown of world cultural luminary national liberation hero Nguyen Trai (1380-1442) and many other notables.
Nguyen Trai graduated as doctor and served in Ho Dynasty in 1400. In 1406, Ming force invaded and conquered Viet Nam; he joined the liberation army or Lam Son revolution led by Le Loi as the closest adviser and the primary strategist. Many diplomatic letters and pronouncements were written by him. In 1442, he was blamed for the death of king Le Thai Tong, he and his entire extended families were accused of treason and to be exterminated. In 1446, King Le Thanh Tong officially pardoned Nguyen Trai, saying that he was wholly innocent in the death of King Le Thai Tong.
Nguyen Trai Temple in Nhi Khe. (Photo:thoibaovietlangnghe.com.vn)
He left to future generations so many great arts and literary works such as "Quan Trung tu menh tap" (Works compiled in the Army), "Uc Trai thi tap" (Selected poems of Uc Trai), "Du dia chi" (Geographical Notes), "Quoc am thi tap" (Selected poems in national language), "Binh ngo dai cao" (Great proclamation upon the pacification of the Wu) and many other works. Apart from the literary value, those works are also the quintessence of the ideology of the time, of the great mettle of the Vietnamese nation. For this reason in 1980, UNESCO recognized Nguyen Trai the world’s cultural celebrity on the occasion of his 600th birth day.
The next cultural celebrity in Nhi Khe Village is Luong Van Can (1854 – 1927). His name is also associated with Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc movement (Tonkin Free School), a famous historical and cultural event happened 95 years ago. And his son, Luong Ngoc Quyen (1885 – 1917) was the leader of Thai Nguyen Uprising against French colonialism in 1917. For hundreds of years, the village has maintained its academic tradition.
Coming to Nhi Khe, from the village entrance visitors will hear the specific sound of the profession; the whistling noise of the saw machine cutting wood; the bustling sound of wood-lathing, drilling, etc. Visitors can enjoy the village's exquisite products, including worship objects, household furniture and utensils, beads and various kinds of statues.
In Nhi Khe, visitors can also visit the complex of monuments, cultural heritage and intangible objects, including communal house built in 17th century, Nguyen Trai temple, etc. All are the pride of all Nhi Khe villagers.