Ha Noi, also named
Thang Long, is the place of convergence, of the essence of the traditional handicrafts from all over the country. Throughout thousands of years of preserving, establishing, developing with many vocational villages and the traditional craft professions, Ha Noi has showed an appearance, variety, and richness in potential. However, many professions as well as craft villages have now been lost and faded over time, including the Sắc paper making profession (Nghia Do village), the Dó paper-making profession (Buoi), which were once famous in the capital. That poses a duty for us to preserve the tradition, the cream of the Capital of a thousand-year civilization.

To make Dó papers, the craftsmen from Yen Thai , Ho Khau, Nghia Do, Buoi Area need high skills and secrets which have passed on since many generations. Their work is extremely hard. The main material to make paper is fresh Dó bark, that craftsmen buy in En Street.

The fresh bark must be soaked in water for one day then picked and soaked in diluted lime water in two days. Next, it is placed in a caldron to steam for the next 4 days and to do other stages. A long time ago, Yen Thai Village often built a the stove to cook Dó right by the To river, because this terrain makes it convenient for soaking, milling and filtering the bark . There is a village well here from which people can get water to eat and to produce. Annually, in March in the lunar calendar, the villagers dredge wells to make sure they would get clear and clean water.

A survey in Nghia Do ward and the elderly’s story in the Lai family show that Lai Family in Nghia Do village started up by making Sắc paper under the reign of Le-Trinh, and have since then developed it until now for hundreds of years. Maybe before that, our nation had made this particular type of paper, but their production had not been researched. The old men here said, Dó paper-making was laborious but Sắc paper-making is much more sophisticated. Sắc paper, which was used to bestow title on the highest officer (top of the hierarchy), took five craftsmen to work simultaneously to make one single sheet. The paper that was used to bestow on the lower hierarchy (from the second rank to the ninth rank) had a narrower size and also took three workers to make one sheet. The delicate stage that requires extremely high skill is to draw the dragon on Sắc paper – this is the final stage, the hardest, the most sophisticated and also the most artistic one. Those skilled craftsmen like Mr. Tam Hoan, Mr. Sau To, Mr. Xa Lich drew “running” curve . The less skilled workers only drew ‘do’, it means following the “running” curve to paint with metallic powder, gold, silver.

In addition to the basic processes such as the production of other kinds of Dó paper – the sắc paper has some elaborate and complex stages that other ordinary types of Dó paper do not have to go through such as: to glue, to dye and to “nghe“. Gluing paper aims to make the paper tougher, anti-hygroscopic and anti-termite. It is dyed to make the paper have a characteristic color. People often dye paper with powder from the ground flower of the pagoda tree. When dyeing, they have to dye both sides so that the new paper is yellow and tough. “Nghe” is the stage of making paper thinner and tougher. It means using the pestle, beating up a stack, which consists of 4-5 sheets on a stone . Until we can hear the clang from the pestle , the paper is thin and glossy, it’s done. “Nghe” workers must have both health and dexterity. Only those with a lot of experience can be assigned to this task.

Sắc paper-making artisans always kept the technical secrets of “polishing gold, polishing silver” to themsleves. Tools for polishing gold and silver were the pestle and the extra-large bowl. To keep professional secrets, these old men often did this work in the most discreet place of the home to avoid outsiders’ learning. For example, Mr Tam Hoan’s family had a large altar and there was a large area near the altar , this was the place where he often did the job of polishing gold, polishing silver secretly. Unfortunately, Mr. Tam Hoan had passed away before imparting the profession for anyone, including his descendants – there still have been a green rock, very flat, measuring about 60x80cm, formerly used to “nghè” paper. That is the only memento Mr. Tam left;  other tools to polish gold, silver have been lost.

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According to the elderly in Lai family: previously, in Nghia Do village, not only one person but the whole family participated in the paper-making. Under the Nguyen Dynasty – in the reign of King Khai Dinh – there was a time when the State ordered Nghia Do craftsmen to make thousands of Sắc papers. In 1925, King Khai Dinh organized  a “forty-year-old longevity wishing” ceremony, used Sắc paper to confer the title on every mandarin, therefore, that year Nghia Do village made the most papers. The price of Sắc paper was very high, at that time every Sắc paper costed an Indochina silver coin (an equivalent amount of roughly 1,2 ounce of gold) because it is difficult to make Sắc paper and the materials used for decoration are pure gold and silver. Lai family here have many households making Sắc paper such as Mr. Xa Vi, Mr. Pho Nhiem, Mr. Truong Lao, Mr. Truong Xu, Mr. Xa lich, Mr. Pho Nhien, Mr. Bep Kiem family.

Now when visiting Nghia Do, the trace of the remaining Sắc paper production is scarce. Most of the skillful craftsmen have passed away. Branch of Lai family is now many times as crowded as the old days: Mr. Lai Thi Phuong-“xeo” worker (who spread the layer of paper powder into a handmade mold) and Mr. Lai Phu Ban-painter, are all over the hill (around 80 years old).

The traditional Dó paper production, the Sắc paper production villages in our country in general and Hanoi in particular have a long history. Dó paper and Sắc paper with have special quality standards that other ordinary papers don’t have, and they are products of cultural imprints of the Vietnamese. The birth, development, and perfection of Dó and Sắc paper-making is closely linked with ethnicity, with Thang Long – Hanoi thousand-year civilization, and vividly demonstrate the ability to work creatively, the virtue of hard-work of many generations of artisans and craftsmen from traditional craft villages.


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