Sitting less than 20 kilometers from Hanoi downtown, Son Dong wood carving village is famous for its meticulous, spiritual products made of wood by devoted and talented craftsmen like statues of Buddha and worship objects used at pagodas and temples. What most impressing those visiting the craft village is perhaps the sounds of wood carving, which can be heard in any corner of the village.
The wood carving village of Son Dong is located in Son Dong Commune of Ha Noi’s Hoai Duc District, Vietnam. The traditional craft of wood carving in Son Dong was said to date back over 1,000 years and with such a long history there were periods the career seemed to fall into oblivion. But it was not until around 30 years ago that the craft started to be revived and is growing like what we can see these days when reaching the village thanks to classes held by experienced craftsmen to teach the traditional career to the younger generations. Those attending such classes now continue passing the craft on to young people to keep it alive.
Upon arrival at the village, it is easy to notice shops selling wooden objects of worship close to one another. Main products are statues of Buddha, national heroes, objects of worship, lacquered boards with parallel sentences and altars among others, which have reached not only pagodas and temples nationwide but also some foreign markets. Craftsmen are busy working all day but they are much busier during peak time, which is the end of each year, to fulfill a high number of orders from customers.
Wood carving is the major income source of Son Dong Commune with thousands of people engaging themselves in the occupation to earn a living. Visiting any workshop in the village, one can easily catch not only old men but also younger ones ceaselessly carving and shaping statues.
Producing a finished product requires craftsmen to take several steps like choosing the wood, drawing, carving, smoothing and painting, each of which requires craftsmen high concentration and great patience. Their concentration on the works is so great that one may find himself guilty if interrupting those craftsmen at work.
And thanks to skillful craftsmen with all their heart and mind put into the works to give statues certain expressions, we can feel the soul of each single product.
Being aware that those skilled craftsmen should not be interrupted during their work except in breaks, I still managed to politely interrupt a local woman who was rubbing a wooden object. She said women are also involved in wood carving but in some easier, less important tasks and skilled male craftsmen are in charge of more sophisticated, more important ones. According to local craftsmen, jackfruit wood purchased from other provinces like Phu Tho, Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa and Nghe An is the main material used to carve statues of Buddha as it is durable, soft and rarely cracks.
Coming to the village, visitors can observe with their own eyes how much time and effort craftsmen spend on their works. And it is the great skills of Son Dong craftsman and their enthusiasm as well that make the village as well-known as it is nowadays.