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Tradition may be destroyed in coastal commune

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 A dozen traditional houses in Giao Hai Commune, Nam Dinh Province, currently stand in a ruined state, but the local administration has been struggling to find sufficient funds to restore them.


The coastal commune, 160km south of Ha Noi, is famous for its 1940s-era boi houses, which have clay walls and roofs layered with thick sedge.

Modern homes have been slowly replacing them over the last two decades, and there are now only 13 boi houses left.
To form the roof of a boi house, layers of sedge are woven together and tightened by rattan fibres until they reach one to two metres in thickness.
Every year freshly harvested sedge is added to repair the roof, which droops over the house in the shape of a mushroom.
Tran Van Thinh, 75, who owns the oldest house in the commune, said it would take a large sum of money to restore his house.
"I've been living here since I was born. The house was built by my father and it still stands, but frankly I cannot not save enough money to repair it," Thinh said.
He added that the timber structure of the house was on the verge of collapse, held up by wooden supports he had added to the foundations. The clay walls had crumbled due to rain and termites, and he had been forced to replace them with brick.
"I farm a small piece of land, which produces enough food to sustain me. My children have settled into their own lives, so I may have to give up the house and build a new one," he sadly confided.
The father of seven said the local administration had encouraged him to retain the house intact, but he lacked the funds for a satisfactory restoration.
"The authorities want to preserve traditional architecture, but we are short of money," said the cultural section head of the communal People's Committee, Tran Van Huyen.
With a population of 7,000 and an average per-capita income of VND11.3 million (US$500), the province earns only VND300 million ($14,000) annually.
"We have yet to find a financial mechanism to save the old houses before they collapse," Huyen said.
Cultural researcher Tran Lam Bien said these houses need sponsorship from businesses rather than from the Government.
"These houses are not cultural relics, so they cannot receive State funding. The local administration should raise money from businesses or solicit support from the provincial department of culture, sports and tourism," Bien said in a phone interview.
"The local administration has to survey the status of these houses and make their restoration a priority."
Tran Thi Tuong, owner of a traditional house built in 1942, said the timber structure of her home had become rotten over the past five years.
"Wooden beams and girders have been worm-eaten for a long time, and the roof is laid by thatch rather than sedge. People here don't plant sedge anymore," Tuong complained.
"It would take at least VND20 million to repair the main structure and walls, and that's a lot of money for farmers."
The 70-year-old woman still works making fish sauce, but she manages to save only a little money each day for her seven-member family.
The 120-year-old commune supports itself by farming rice and fishing, but 11.4 per cent of the population earns only $20 per month.
Last year, the commune began a new initiative to attract tourists.
The local authorities began offering a tour for $21 per person, which included entry into the old houses, a demonstration of fish sauce making, a performance of traditional Cheo opera, and a chance to walk on stilts. But the commune's tourism board confirmed that only 200 tourists visited the area last year.
"Local people expect to see a portion of the profits from tourism, but we haven't seen an influx of visitors because the service has not yet been promoted," Huyen explained.
"I hope that an increase in tourism will help improve the commune's economic situation, and that we will soon have enough money to rescue the houses."
The local administration has not yet contacted international organisations to seek funding for a restoration project.
Source VNE

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