Young man’s love for an old craft

06:00 | 19/02/2022 Culture & Tourism

(VEN) - Artisan Dang Van Hau is probably the youngest Vietnamese maker of “to he”, the edible figurines made of glutinous rice powder typical of the Lunar New Year (Tet) and other festivals. He has associated himself with this craft for 20 years and is determined to revive the colorful custom. 

young mans love for an old craft
Artisan Dang Van Hau

Artisan revives toy figurines

Hau has a room displaying thousands of “to he” products of different sizes and in various postures: standing, sitting, lying, or hung on the wall. Some products are new, some have been in the room for several years.

Using just a piece of glutinous rice powder, artisan Dang Van Hau can create animals, flowers or characters in folk stories within several minutes with his skillful hands. He simultaneously made the toys and told me interesting stories about “to he” and his efforts to revive and maintain the craft as a cultural value of the nation.

Born in 1985 in Xuan La Village, Phu Xuyen District, Hanoi, Hau had a great passion for the colorful toys when he was small, spending time studying the lost craft from his maternal grandfather.

Many residents of Xuan La Village have no knowledge of the toys. Hau says “to he” is the quintessence of the toy culture left by the older generations for younger ones.

young mans love for an old craft

Longer shelf life

Artisan Dang Van Hau has engrossed himself in seeking ways to innovate “to he”. He uses new materials to enable longer preservation and create nicer colors. He has also strived to make “to he” better known among Vietnamese people and international friends.

Hau says that in the past, “to he” was made only on festive occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival, Lunar New Year, and village festivals. The toys could be preserved for three to five days. Therefore, the craft of making “to he” was seasonal and did not provide stable incomes for artisans, forcing many to abandon it over the years.

young mans love for an old craft
young mans love for an old craft

In 2012, Hau began to improve the quality of the glutinous rice powder, allowing the figurines to be preserved and made all year round and sold at higher prices ranging from VND20,000 to VND500,000 per product.

Hau has also sought ways to popularize his products through information channels such as Facebook and websites and he believes this will enable “to he” to appear next to modern toys in Tet market stalls.

Hau is confident of his ability to earn his living from making the figurines. Even amid the Covid-19 pandemic, while most festivals and cultural events were canceled and many shops selling traditional products had to close, he received many valuable orders.

Hau creates a specific “to he” collection for each festival, combining the distinctive characteristics of the old toys with new details to adapt them to customer tastes. He can sell a set of “to he” toys at a price of VND3.5 million.

Quynh Anh