THE KINGDOM OF KILNS

Along the rivers of Măng Thít district, Vĩnh Long province, the last kilns slowly exhales their smoke. Kilns are densely built in the area and it has been dubbed as the Kingdom of Kilns of Mekong delta. However, with technology advancement and environmental concern, this traditional craftsmanship may soon become a memory. Changes are necessary and inevitable, but if they are smartly conserved and adapted, the remains of a once prosperous kingdom may have a chance to live a new healthy and sustainable life.
For long, the brick and tile manufacture has become a traditional craftsmanship in Mekong provinces, especially in An Giang, Dong Thap and Vinh Long. Thanks to its rich clay resources and convinient river systems, the craftsmanship has created various jobs for local people, from exploiting clay, transporting, manufacturing to dilivering. Hustling boats which carry clay, rice shell and fired terracotta promptperse into every direction once made a characteristic scenery of the region.
The clay used to produce bricks is the silt sediment of around 40-50cm thick under water. At the kilns, it is mixed with sand in a proportion judged by the experience of the craftsmen, which determines the colors and quality of the final products. It is then molded and dried in shade. Again by experience, the craftsmen arrange unfired earthenwares in the kilns so that small thin stuffs are placed in the least heated area and vice versa, to make sure they would turn out in good color and achieve the same quality, also to reduce breakage. Rice shell is used for burning, until the seventh day the kiln reaches 900°C then it is sealed and is opened when it has cooled down. The main designs are bricks and roofing tiles, later there are flowerpots and decorative sculptures. The Mekong terracotta is thick, unglazed, strong and expressive with bright reddish terracotta color. The products are well loved because of their positive and expressive effect.
Trong hình ảnh có thể có: ngoài trời
The kilns are made of terracotta. Solid bricks are placed to form a dome and it is balanced into itself without help of frames or beams. At the corner there are two ventilations which lead to two chimneys at the back of the kiln. The most interesting feature is the worship niche. This is an animism belief that is common among Vietnamese peoples, that everything either animanted or unaimated all has souls. By respecting the souls of the kilns and other gods whose existence they sense around them, the craftsmen at one side appreciate nature, at the other side feel more secure when performing a somewhat dangerous job. Sleepless nights to watch the stoves prompt their imagination to the creation of "kiln ghost" stories, together with danger that lurks around, this practice has eased the mind of the craftsmen and made their job less stressful.
Today, a number of kilns are on the verge of closing due to stress on environmental issues. Some have moved to modern technology with less emission, a few have been adapted as tourist attractions. Mang Thit is on the river route connecting two big tourist center of Mekong - Cai Be and Can Tho, therefore it stands a good chance of development. However, from our fieldtrips in Ben Tre and Vinh Long, there is little cooperation between stakeholders, especially on landscape design, designing tour programs and no characteristic souvenirs haved been introduced. Better collaboration would bring on better share of profit to local people. If received further attention, those kilns would enjoy more conservation as they are interesting architectures that house valuable culture gems of Mekong people.
Source of information:
Culture of Vietnamese people in Mekong delta, HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

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