Asso. Prof. HUNG, NGUYEN MANH, PhD.
1. This is a set of books written in French by OGER and published in Paris into 200 copies. Each one of them consists of 159 pages (OGER had made a mistake in pagination as there’re actually only 156 pages), and 32 illustrations. Among the 156 pages, 79 of them deal with working methods, presentation, publishing, indigenous crafts and daily life activities; 30 deal with indexes relating to general technique, chinese technique, games, and toys, 40 of them contain the contents and annotations of each one of the plates in the Album and the General Contents.
2. In the part introducing the indigenous crafts – one part of the main contents of the book – HENRI OGER has described a number of crafts such as lacquer work, embroidery, mother-of-pearl inlaying, wood-engraving, paper making and other crafts, considered by OGER as originating from paper such as: parasol and fan making, coloured drawings, book-printing. Then H. OGER dealt with a number of “indigenous industries” such as house constructions, transportation, fabric weaving, clothing, dyeing, food industry, rice processing, rice powder making, fishing and also tobacco manufacturing …
3. Dealing with indigenous crafts, H. OGER has paid attention and kept a watchful eye on the technical field. He’s recorded each action, each gesture, each type of instruments, and has had remarks on materials, quality, subjects, working conditions, product consumption, and comparison with products of Japan, China… To sum up, H. OGER had generalized the existence of many handicrafts at that time through his personal view that couldn’t avoid being somewhat subjective, and had reached common appraisals aimed at serving the french way of governing. Let’s read a few following descriptions:
a. “Many observers who’ve lived in Annam often write in their Journey’s diaries that: all industries seem almost absent and are insignificant in Annam. And they often asserted that: we (i.e. the French) oughtn’t undervalue the contributions of the indigenous craftmen to the economic movement we’re wishing to spread in this country”.
b. OGER has observed. “The Vietnamese farmers don’t have to lead a hard life throughout the year, on the contrary they often have long leisure days. In such leisure days, the farmers will gather together and work as guilds of workers and the manufactured products will become the financial supplement which the rice planting work couldn’t bring about for them, particularly with the type of Indochinese rice”.
c. What’s a workers’ guild? According to H. OGER: “A guild consists of two main points: the workers work at home for an employer, and this employer comes to the workers’ houses to collect their products”.
d. In another chapter H. OGER has written: “Vietnam is a country that produces a lot of paint, and the paint in the North is particularly cheap. Therefore, all daily use appliances are covered with a layer of paint, that protects them against the harsh temperature which causes wooden articles to be quickly destroyed. The paint produced is not only sufficient for inland use, but is also available in much larger quantities for great traders in Canton to import into their country”.
e. Forming an opinion of vietnamese lacquerware at that time, OGER assumes that: “the lacquering technique of Vietnam isn’t as delicate and clever as the one of Japan. The Vietnamese only spread a layer of special quality paint over wooden or bamboo objects, previously well rubbed, and use fine clay to caulk the defects, and sell the lacquer products to poor people. For that reason, the objects covered by that layer of paint had been often blistered and sticky”.
f. Dealing with the decorative subject, OGER thinks that the vietnamese lacquerer only borrows it from “Sino-Vietnamese symbols” just like the embroiderer, “he’s at his place a lot of subjects imported from China which he blended awkwardly”. Finally, Oger believes that the vietnamese lacquerer doesn’t try to look for new decorative subjects “From forefathers to descendants, they handed down to one another only a lot of subjects which some unknown designer had realized in the past by order”. In another chapter, we can see that OGER had paid much attention to the various types of implements and gestures …
g. “The embroidery frame is a kind of simple implement. This is a rectangular frame made of bamboo. It’s placed on two campbeds, and the piece of silk will be put inside it. People tighten the piece of silk with small threads coiled around the bamboo frame. As for the embroidering pattern, it has been drawn in advance on annamese paper, a type of light and fine paper. The pattern is placed on a horizontal bamboo stand, and one spreads over it a transparent sheet of rice paper or a piece of silk. Using a pen brush, the embroiderer transfers exactly the pattern on the piece of silk. In the fact-finding chapter dealing with the painter producing annamese folk-paintings, we (i.e. the French) shall meet again with that skilful method that allows one to reproduce for ever”.
h.“The embroiderer’s work requires more toiling and moiling and dexterity than intelligence. For that reason one often hires young men or women, and at times children to do the work. The work to be performed is to re-create the design with various coloured threads. The embroiderer sits in front of the frame, with his feet stretched out under it. He holds the needle vertically over the piece of silk and pulls tightly the thread allowing no slackened spots. This is the means to keep the embroidery in good shape and lasting. Right beside him is a lamp, as he has to work day and night to meet with the many orders.
This lamp consists of a 2-cent inkpot filled with oil, having at its middle point a wick. The vietnamese embroiderer works under this flickering light that’s so smoky and stinking. For that reason, it’s easy to see that we don’t find any old people working as embroiderers – as older people are usually hired to work in other crafts of the vietnamese people.
BAN TU THU
◊ Source: Technique of the Annamese People by Henri Oger, 1908-1909. Dr. Nguyen Manh Hung, Researcher & Compiler.
◊ Featured image is sepiaised by Ban Tu Thu – thanhdiavietnamhoc.com